ISLAM, WOMEN, AND THE CHALLENGES OF TODAY by Farzana Hassan (White Knight), 210 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Western cultures can decry the human rights violations committed in the name of Islam as vehemently they want, but ultimately it will only be Muslims talking to other Muslims who will effect change.
The greatest of the human rights violations committed in Muslim communities and countries are those against women.
Farzana Hassan, an interfaith activist and now head of the Muslim Canadian Congress, is doing her best to redress this problem. She wisely begins her book with chapters titled Why I Believe and My Spiritual Journey, establishing for the Muslim reader that she is a devout practitioner of her faith.
Then, clearly, dispassionately and intelligently, she examines the passages of the Quran that deal with inheritance, divorce, the veil and other texts calling for the restriction of women's rights
She uses the principle of "ijtihad" to argue that Muslims must practise Islam in accordance with Muhammad's intent, not just his words. Whereas jihad is the struggle to fight evil (a term co-opted by fundamentalists to mean war), ijtihad is the call by God to use independent or personal judgment.
Hassan points out that the Quran was written in ancient classical Arabic, and, as with other religious texts, there is debate among scholars about the meanings of some of its words. A wife, for instance, would be keenly interested in the difference between the words "chastise" and "beat."
Pre-Islamic Arabia, like many other cultures at the time, practised slavery and concubinage, and women certainly lacked inheritance rights. Islam, by directing men to care for slaves, concubines and wives, actually furthered women's rights. Muhammad also espoused equal coeducation for females, and in Islam's early days there were many female scholars.
Though Hassan's book is a bit of a stodgy read, the ideas are exciting. A dialogue about and amongst Muslim women is essential for Islam's survival and the furtherance of women's rights.
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