Fiqh analysis explores religion and gender issues
- 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, Andre 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.