Journal Entry for My Islam Class

>> Saturday, March 28, 2009


So in my Islam class we were discussing how modern Islamic scholars were reinterpreting the Quran and Sunnah to fit today's modern standard, as I argued before in my post entitled "reinterpretations," this is not true. If you want my past post on this subject click here. Also one thing you'll notice here is that I use MLA style citation. I usually do not do that but this teacher forced us to use MLA.

Here is What I Wrote

In his book Struggling to Surrender Jeffrey Lang says, "In my opinion, it seems that these scholars often limited the privileges of women as much as the texts would permit, while extending the rights of men as far as possible without blatantly contradicting the textual sources. Coming from a different viewpoint, one would expect – and this is currently happening – that today's Muslim thinkers would to some degree reverse this trend" (154). Meaning that modern scholars are reinterpreting the Islamic texts to be more in line with today's modern social views and Muslim scholars of the past traditionally limited the privileges of women. After reading this I decided to find out if the traditional and modern scholars differed and if they did then on what. I decided to read the different interpretations of Surah Nisa ayah three because it is the verse in the Quran that deals with polygamy.

I started off reading the interpretations of Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh), and Ibn Abbas, the Prophet's (pbuh) cousin and an expert in tafsir. I chose these two because they were from the first generation of Muslims and both related to the Prophet (pbuh). Aisha's opinion was that this Ayat was protecting the rights of women. She claimed that before Islam, men would marry an unlimited amount of orphan girls and then abuse the girls because they had no protectors. According to Aisha, the third ayah of Surah Nisa was not only limiting the amount of wives a man could have but also warning the man to not abuse his wives (qtd. In Tafheem). The Ayah allows for four wives but with qualifications. If the man abuses his wives like the men of the Jahiliyyah era did then he would be punished. In another relation, Ibn' Abbas tells us that in Jahiliyyah men would marry many women and would not be able to support them. Then the man would not give equal share of money to his wives, children and even other family members (qtd. in Tafheem). Neither Aisha nor Ibn Abbas were limiting the privilege of women rather, they understood the text to end the abuse of women by men.

Ibn Kathir is the next person to comment on Ayah 3 of Surah Nisa. Next person to comment about Surah Nisa Ayat three is Ibn Kathir. He was not from the first three generations of Muslims instead he was a medieval Muslim scholar and comments very little on this ayah. He does not limit the privilege of women nor does he interpret the ayah to benefit men. He only gives an example of a Muslim during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) who had more than four wives and was commanded to divorce his wives until he only had four (Tafsir ibn Kathir).

The next two scholars are Muhammed Abduh and Maududi. Both of these men lived in the twentieth century. Muhammed Abduh wrote eleven rulings, rooted in the Malikite School, on polygamy. All of the eleven rulings allowed the woman to divorce her husband even if she was the only wife if her husband could not provide for her. If the husband was sick, imprisoned or even away for an extended period of time and could not adequately support his wife then the wife could motion for a divorce (Amin 79). He did not forbid polygamy like some people today do instead he returned to the roots of Islam. Maududi in his tafsir claims that Ayah three of Surah Nisa allows men to marry up to four women if the men are financially stable and is able to treat them equally and kindly. If the man does not treat his wives with justice then it is as if he took a gift from God and was ungrateful for the gift. He further addresses the new interpretations of certain people who say that Islam really was banning polygamy. Maududi says,

"Such arguments only show the mental slavery to which these people have succumbed… Those who consider it an evil in itself may certainly denounce it in disregard of the Qur'an and may even argue for its abolition. But they have no right to attribute such a view to the Qur'an, for it has expressed its permission of polygamy in quite categorical terms. Indeed, there is not the slightest hint in the Qur'an that could justify the conclusion that it advocates abolition of polygamy" (Tafheem)

He further addresses ayah 129 and says,

"Some people point out that in this verse the Qur'an in one breath stipulates justice as the necessary condition for plurality of wives and in the other breath declares it to be impossible. On this ground they conclude that the Qur'an has itself revoked the permission to marry more than one wife. There is, however, absolutely no justification for such an inference. Such an inference would have been justified had the Qur'an merely said that 'You will not be able to treat your wives with (absolute) justice.' But this statement has been followed by the directive: ' ... do not allow yourselves to incline wholly to one, leaving the other in suspense.' This leaves no grounds at all for the blind followers of Christian Europe to force an interpretation of their liking on the verse." (Tafheem)

All the scholars presented were from different time periods, ranging from the time of the Prophet (pbuh) all the way to the 20th century. And all of them came up with the same conclusion: that a man can marry up to four wives but there are qualifications placed on the ruling. None of the scholars claim the Quran subtly forbids polygamy, however Lang could have been misled to believe that traditional scholars limited the privileges of women because today and in the past, women in the Muslim world have been abused and the abusers hide behind a perverted misinterpretation of the Quran. This perverted misinterpretation does not come from the ruling of scholars but rather they spawn from the abusers' evil.