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Fiqh analysis explores religion and gender issues

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  • He-Man
    The Jakarta Post 01-07-2001 Fiqh analysis explores religion and gender issues Fiqh Perempuan, Refleksi Kiai atas Wacana Agama dan Gender (Islamic law and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1 6:24 AM
      The Jakarta Post


      Fiqh analysis explores religion and gender issues

      Fiqh Perempuan, Refleksi Kiai atas Wacana Agama dan Gender (Islamic
      law and woman, a scholar's reflection on religious and gender
      issues); K.H. Husein Muhammad; LKiS, Yogyakarta, 2001,; 190 pp.+ xxxv)

      JAKARTA (JP): It has been long argued that Islam "discourages" women.
      To some extent, this judgment is true. Looking at the Koran, one
      finds it difficult not to assume that a number of verses in the Koran
      has strongly gender-biased overtones. It is stated that leadership is
      exclusively in the hands of men; it is men who lead over women. It is
      also stated that women inherit only half a portion, while men inherit
      the full portion. Also women's testimony should be based on at least
      two persons, while one man's testimony will be fully accepted.

      The most controversial issue regarding man-woman relationship is the
      justification for man to have more than one wife. According to Islam,
      a man can be polygamous if he can meet all the requirements.

      For the "special" men, polygamy is sometimes highly recommended. This
      is still practiced in Muslim communities today. Rather than solving
      problems, polygamy causes other problems such as violence against

      In the narratives of the Prophet, women are depicted more poorly than
      men in the Koran. It is stated that women were created from men's
      bent rib. Thus it is interpreted from this allegory that women are as
      difficult to straighten. So that makes women fragile and thus should
      be treated gently. According to the exegesis of the Koran, it was Eve
      who seduced Adam to taste the forbidden fruit, resulting in both of
      them being banished from Heaven. A similar story was one of Joseph
      and Zulaikha, where Joseph was seduced by Zulaikha into an incestuous

      Based on these, women are perceived as emotional and men, rational.
      Woman are also supposed to be beautiful, soft, impulsive, patient but
      lack intelligence. On the other hand, men are supposed to be
      powerful, alert, clever but lack patience. It is assumed that these
      qualities of men and women were created to complement each other.

      "They are your clothes, you are their clothes," says the Koran.
      According to the Koran, God created both men and women with these so-
      called fitrah (predispositions). However, some people reject this
      assumption, asserting that these qualities are not inherent in men
      and women, but socially constructed and therefore interchangeable.

      Fiqh (Islamic law) is very much influenced by this biased perspective
      where women are subordinate to men. It is often suspected as the most
      biased gender aspect of Islam. Men's hegemony over women has been
      systematically created. First, it begins with several sacred texts.
      Second, from these sacred texts, fiqh expounds on the concepts of
      devotion, marriage, leadership, inheritance, wifehood and motherhood,
      thus maintaining the patriarchal system.

      In the context of religious life, it is necessary to mention a
      classical Islamic text called Uqud al-Lujain (Transactions of
      couples), written by a 19th century Bantenese ulama, Muhammad Nawawi.

      This work is believed to have played an important role in preserving
      patriarchy. According to Nawawi's narrative, when a wife turns down
      her husband's desire to make love, all the Angels in Heaven will
      condemn her until dawn breaks."

      From hegemony to copartnership

      Nawawi is strongly criticized for being too dependent on weak
      sources. Critics say most of his arguments are taken from apocryphal

      Surprisingly, this work is regarded as the most representative
      reference in traditional Islamic scholarship regarding man-woman
      relationship. It is still widely used in pesantren (Islamic boarding
      schools) in Indonesia as well as in Southeast Asian countries.

      As modernization comes to the Muslim world, this unbalanced structure
      is increasingly being opposed. It is argued that this structure
      should be reformed to make men and women copartners.

      The reformation of this old-fashioned structure, however, is no easy
      task. The reason for this is that it is related to the overall
      structure of Islamic thought, which, since the beginning, has
      championed the patriarchal system. But this is not to suggest that
      Islam tolerates a form of discrimination against women.

      "Religion," writes Husein Muhammad, "has never tolerated any form of
      discrimination. The best solution to this is to reconstruct and
      reinterpret the sacred texts and adapt them to the current

      According to progressive ideas, Islam was not revealed from a vacuum
      state. If this proposition is understood correctly, some parts of
      Islamic teachings, including those on man-woman relationship, have
      been laid down on the basis of local and temporal needs. It means
      that what is important is not what was literally revealed to the
      Prophet, but rather the spirit underlying the revelation.

      This spirit is perceived by most Muslim scholars as the spirit of
      change. Some gender activists even dare to say that it is time
      to "demasculinize" religious paradigms. But this is not to say that
      this "demasculinization" is a shift from patriarchy to matriarchy.
      Gender movement is not intended to create a new form of
      discrimination, one that is against men. It is expected to create a
      better world for all.

      This book is written by Husein Muhammad, a kyai from Cirebon and head
      of a pesantren. One lesson taken from this book is that fiqh actually
      gives us an abundance of perspectives regarding man-woman
      relationship, ranging from the most conservative to the liberal.

      In the introduction of this book, Andr‚e Feillard, a French scholar,
      is quite right in saying that Husein has given valuable contribution
      to the compilation of Islamic laws on women. The book sheds new light
      on the gender movement in Indonesia.

      --Jajang Jahroni, a lecturer at IAIN (State Institute of Islamic
      Studies) Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta.
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