Is it possible to interpret the Qur’an using the Qur’an alone? Is a feminist interpretation of controversial verses such as 4:34, the notorious “wife-beating” verse, possible? What evidence is there for the possibility that Maryam, the mother of Isa (Jesus) was a prophet, and why does that matter? How are Islamic feminist scholars in conversation with each other, as they both draw from and challenge each other in their efforts to find meaning in gender-related verses in the Qur’an? Abla Hasan’s book Decoding the Egalitarianism of the Qur’an: Retrieving Lost Voices on Gender
(Lexington Books, 2020) offers possible answers to these questions and more.
Hasan is an Associate Professor in Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches courses in Arabic language and culture. She received her PhD in Philosophy of Language from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her research and teaching focus on Qur'anic Studies, Islamic feminism, women and gender studies, and Arabic Studies.
In Decoding the Egalitarianism of the Qur’an
, Hasan aims to provide new interpretations of qur’anic verses related to gender and family—or, at least verses believed by others to be about the family—through a Qur’an-only approach. She shows that it is possible, meaningful, and necessary to read the Qur’an outside of any external sources such as hadiths, fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, tafsir, and other traditional ways through which the Qur’an has historically been read. This allows her to offer new interpretations of many verses, such as those related to polygyny, the hijab, child marriage, the claim that men have a degree of superiority over women, and verse 4:34, which is traditionally believed to grant husbands the right to physically discipline their wives. Using her background in the linguistics of the Qur’an, she analyzes the textual context of each verse in question as well as in specific key terms to highlight what she argues are the original, intended meanings of these verses. For example, she interrogates common understandings of the audience of many gender-related verses, believed to be men or husbands, and offers alternative possibilities.
The book is the latest important intervention in the discourse on Islam and gender. It will be of interest to specialist and non-specialist, including non-academic, audiences interested in women’s and gender studies, Qur’anic studies, religion and gender, and tafsir studies. It will be especially relevant in undergraduate and graduate courses related to gender and religion.
In our discussion today, she explains her choice to rely on the Qur’an alone for her arguments, including the importance of a linguistic and semantic approach to understanding the Qur’an. She shares with us what some of the problems in existing scholarship on gender and Islam are – whether from feminist engagements or the historical patriarchal ones. And she shares some of her interpretations of some verses, such as female agency in the Qur’an, Maryam’s prophethood, polygyny, the hijab, the idea of men’s darajah (or a degree of superiority) over women, and, of course, 4:34, among others.
Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. Her primary research areas include Islam, gender, and interreligious marriage. She has a YouTube channel called What the Patriarchy, where she vlogs about feminism and Islam in an effort to dismantle the patriarchy; the vlog is available at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClvnmSeZ5t_YSIfGnB-bGNw She can be reached at email@example.com.