Review Essay: Rights And Roles Of Women: Some Controversies Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Women, Religion, Islam, Muslim, Church, Middle East, Men, Understanding

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/01/09


Islam, often presented as a religion that stands for peace, has been particularly controversial in terms of its perceived teachings on women. Mainstream Western media has typically presented women in Islamic societies as victims of institutionalized oppression. Some people have painted a picture of Islam as a religion that recognizes the superiority of men over women, due to impressions on general manifestations such as the permission given to men for polygamous marriages, requirement for women to wear skin-concealing clothing and the conception of womanhood as one that is limited to the household, among many others. Nonetheless, it is crucial to emphasize that said common notions might not be what Islam, through the Qur’an, has actually mandated – a position held by Amina Wadud whose work, Qur’an and Woman, is the subject of review in this essay.
Emphasizing on the typical controversies on women in Islam, Wadud detailed in Chapter 4 of Qur’an and Woman the typical misgivings held against Islamic teachings in the Qur’an raised by those who seek to advocate for gender equality in Islamic societies. Simply put, Wadud focused on clarifying the circumstantial underpinnings behind every controversy on women in Islam, firmly distinguishing between fundamentals and social contexts. This essay, thus, seeks to bring light on the controversial issues of Islam against women through a review on the aforementioned chapter, with notable comparisons and contrasts to other works assailing Islamic teachings on womanhood such as Infidel, an autobiography by Ayaan Hirsi Ali recounting her sordid experiences she attributed to Islam.

Understanding the Real “Rights and Roles” of Women in Islam

Wadud expressly stated that her analysis on the Qur’anic passages pertaining to women employed an “integrated communal perspective,” which involves individual rights and responsibilities in society with respect to “particular subject(s), event(s), or context(s).” To that account, Wadud explained the application of two terms on Qur’anic justice: darajah and faddala. Darajah, pertaining to the rights acquired by every person for every good deed they commit, is equal for both men and women, despite the fact that divorce stands as a darajat (benefit) enjoyed exclusively by men. Nonetheless, changing social contexts – as in the case of Malaysia in which divorce proceedings would start only if a married couple goes to court to relay their grievances, has since tried to level divorce as a darajah for both men and women,. Such, after all, is in keeping with the virtue of the Qur’an favoring a “harmonious reconciliation” among married couples. The fact that divorce as darajat does not stand as an arbitrary teaching as it is derived from the customs of the Madinan period of revelation in Arabia effectively serves as a reminder of the contextual flexibility required in understanding the Qur’anic passages on women.
Following that, Faddala, wrongly interpreted to justify the overarching dominance of men over women in Islamic societies, must find interpretation based on the understanding that Allah holds His preference for both men and women based on their concomitant responsibilities – again contextual in nature. Understanding the concept of mutual exchange between males and females is essential in interpreting faddala, which does not condone discrimination of women by men as the Qur’an presents it in a way that reflects seventh-century Arabian norms, which reserved leadership positions to men and household duties to women. Given that, one must understand that the Qur’an does not justify the marginalization of women by men inside households in any way. Such, after all, is inconsistent with the teachings of the Qur’an in favor of keeping harmony between men and women.

Contrasting Grounds: The Case of Infidel

Notwithstanding the clarifications made by Wadud, the fact that fundamentalists have sought to perpetuate teachings on Qur’anic passages on women in a very literal manner using precepts applicable only to seventh-century Arabia has led the rather maligned projection of Islam across the world. Works that have portrayed sordid experiences of women under Islamic teachings have since catalyzed protests against Islam, fuelled by accusations that it is a religion resistant to change because of the rather violent actions of certain groups of fundamentalists. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali stands as a fitting example portraying the foregoing, not least because of the fact that her experiences under conservative Islamic societies have featured wrongfully interpreted Islamic teachings that have imperiled women like her. Yet, Hirsi Ali went as far as to criticize Islam to greater lengths mainly because of the apparent prevalence of conservative Islamic societies, albeit without actually paying attention to what Wadud said about the proper interpretation of the Qur’an as a framework for social reform. In such a case, Hirsi Ali, who now resides in the United States (US) following her stint as an MP in the Netherlands, has focused on her traumatic past to assail Islam, without actually understanding what it really teaches based on a prudent reading of the Qur’an akin to what Wadud has done. Hirsi Ali’s attacks on elements of conservative Islamic societies became strikes against Islam itself, hence her apparent lack of grasp in understanding the contextualized nature of writing the Qur’an.


Understanding the Qur’an with respect to the rights and roles of women requires a thorough consideration of its passages as those written within the context of seventh-century Arabia. Given that, it would be wrong to justify that women are inferior compared to men just because the Qur’an appears to say so. A closer reading on the Qur’anic passages on women shows that their inferior positioning within seventh-century Arabia is not arbitrary, but rather contextualized. It thus makes sense to emphasize that Wadud’s Qur’an in Woman is crucial to providing a deeper perspective to works such as Infidel by Hirsi Ali – one that appears to judge Islam in its entirety, to provide a critical defense of Islam.


Al-Lamky, Asya. “Feminizing Leadership in Arab Societies: The Perspectives of Omani Female Leaders.” Women in Management Review 22, no. 1 (2007): 49-67.
Barlas, Asma. Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002.
Bosch, Mineke. “Telling Stories, Creating (and Saving) Her Life. An Analysis of the Autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.” Women’s Studies International Forum 31, no. 2 (2008): 138-147.
Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. Infidel. United Kingdom: Pocket Books, 2008.
Wadud, Amina. Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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