A Feminist Koran?

It’s like the eternal query of the chicken and the egg: Which
came first, a patriarchal society or a religion dictating it? For a
group of Muslim women in Israel, the answer is ‘a little of both.’
Religion demands interpretations, and society leads you to choose
among them.

Nissa wa Afaq, or Women and Horizons, is a group of social
activists preparing to teach a course in the town of Kafr Kara on
feminist interpretations of Islam’s writings. By taking a fresh
look at the Koran, they’re showing that much of the sexism endemic
in Muslim communities is backed up by misguided readings of the
sacred text.

Take, for example, the widespread assumption that Islam endorses
polygamy. Not entirely, says Nissa wa Afaq’s Mirwat Omari. That
position is based on a Koranic verse that’s usually cited only in
part — specifically the part that says a man can take four wives.
The rest of the section, however, shows that the practice is meant
to ensure that widows and children are provided for in times of
war.

‘We imprison ourselves, believing that religion does not give
women space,’ Omari says. But the Nissa wa Afaq women aren’t
kidding themselves either. They know there’s a ‘glass ceiling’ for
women in Islam, just as one exists in Judaism and Christianity. ‘We
don’t argue with the ceiling — the challenge is to stretch the
space between the floor and the ceiling.’

That space grew wider last month, when Amina Wadud, a professor
of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University,

sent shockwaves throughout the Muslim world
by leading

Friday prayers before an audience of both men and women
in
Manhattan.

Nissa wa Afaq’s plans are less grandiose — lessons on
empowerment and feminist commentary on Islam are areas of inquiry
— but the group hopes to make a significant impact on the town. As
writer Tzafi Saar explains, that means ‘putting question marks
after words that used to be followed by an exclamation
point.’
Hannah Lobel

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A
Feminist Koran?

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