by: Ali Mujib
Amina Wadud is a woman who shocked Muslim world by allowing and making herself the Imam and Khatib of Friday praying in front of men and women in United States. She broke the establishment of both social and religious interpretation that followed by many Muslims for 1400 years. In Indonesia, her appearance in a dialogue at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), Jakarta also triggered a strong reaction from many thinkers and community groups in Indonesia.
Majma ‘Al-Fiqhi Al-Islami (MFI) also strongly condemned this nyeleneh (unusual) action. In fact, the Saudi Arabian Office (SPA), quoting MFI, called Wadud’s sensational act as heresy and misfortune. In line with MFI, prominent scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi also strongly condemned the Friday praying of Wadud’s version by calling it a bid’ah (heresy) and munkar (denied). According to him, in Muslim history for 14 centuries, it is not known that a woman becomes a leader and preacher in Friday praying in front of men. Even cases like this did not happen when a woman became the ruler during the Mamalik Era in Egypt. The extraordinary wave of protests was on the other hand generating a lot of support both from feminists and women’s rights and justice.
The Figure of Amina
Born from a Berber African-American named Maria Teasley in Bethesda Maryland, USA on September 25, 1952, is the daughter of a Methodist minister and a mother with the Arab Muslim descendent. Her interest in Islam, especially in terms of concept of gender justice in Islam, led her to proclaim shahada (the Muslim profession of faith “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”) on the day she called “Thanksgiving Day” in 1972. Her name is officially changed to Amina Wadud Muhsin, chosen to reflect the affiliation of the religion she embraces.
Amina Wadud’s intellectual achievement started from receiving a BS degree from University of Pennsylvania, between 1970 and 1975, MA in Near Eastern Studies and a Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan in 1988. She is also a Professor of Islamic Studies majoring in Philosophy and Religion at the University Virginia Commonwealth. During college, she also studied Arabic in Egypt at the American University in Cairo, followed by studies of the Qur’an and Tafsir at Cairo University, Egypt and took a course in Philosophy at al-Azhar University.
In addition to English, Amina Wadud Muhsin also masters several other languages such as Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, French and German. So it is not surprising that she often gains the honor of being a visiting lecturer at universities and a number of academic awards in several countries including the International Islamic University Malaysia, Commonwealth University, the University of Michigan, the American University in Cairo, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The Thoughts of Amina Wadud
Broadly speaking, the concept of Amina’s thought are based on 3 things. First, on the framework of the paradigm of Tawhid (oneness of God), or The Tawhidic Paradigm/ Hermeneutics of Tawhid. Tawhid is the basic theory underlying in affirming the absence of oppression of women in the Qur’an. She always looks at the texts and interprets them contextually, not merely lexically understood as the ancient interpretations of the former interpreter did in their traditional exegetical works. Second, The Perceptions of Women’s Influence Interpretation of the Qur’an. “No method of Qur’anic exegesis is fully objective”, no interpreter interprets the Qur’an objectively, each is subjective. Third, In the Beginning, Man and Woman Were Equal. According to her, although there is a difference between the two but it is not the natural essence because the Qur’an is not clear in determining the function of each. This is what she mentions in the theory of Islamic Feminism.
Her book Qur’an and Woman, which is the result of Amina Wadud’s research and discussions with her friends, is published in 1992. This book is very interesting because it contains a reinterpretation of gender-related verses, which she uses the method of Reinterpretation and Double Movement with Hermeneutic approach, Philology, Social, Moral, Economics and Modern Politics. Through this approach, we can reinterpret the Qur’an to fit the context of the people also able to see the conditions and situations of the revealed verse to obtain the moral value or contained message in the verses.
In the book, she criticized the interpretations that have been discussing women in Islam. She divides the interpretation into 3 (three) categories; traditional, reactive, and holistic. Traditional commentaries, according to Amina, provide certain interpretations according to the interests and abilities of the mufassir (the writer of a commentary on the Qur’an) that can be legal, mystical, grammatical, rhetorical, or historical. The methodology used is atomistic, the interpretation is done by peeling verses per verse in sequence. There is no attempt to place and group similar verses into written points. Amina emphasizes that these traditional commentaries are exclusively written by men, so that only men and men experience color the interpretation. Women-with experience, vision, perspective, desire, or need-are subordinated to men’s views.
The second category is a commentary whose content mainly concerns the reaction of modern thinkers to the large number of obstacles women experience ascribed to the Qur’an. The issues discussed and the methods used often stem from the ideas of feminists and rationalists, but without a comprehensive analysis of the Qur’an. Thus although the spirit brought is liberation, it does not seem to be related to the source of ideology and theology of Islam, the Al Qur’an.
The third category is the interpretation that uses all methods of interpretation and relates to various social, moral, economic, and political issues, including the issue of women in this modern era. According to Amina, the interpretation of this model is the best method. It is in this category that Amina places her works.
The method of interpretation used by Amina is the method that Fazlur Rahman once offered, the neo-modernist method. Rahman argues that the Qur’anic verses that are revealed in a certain time in history – with the general and special circumstances accompany it – use a relative expression of the situation in question. Thus, the message of the Qur’an can not be constrained by the historical situation at the time it is revealed. A companion who reads the Qur’an should understand the implications of the Qur’anic statements at the time of revelation to determine the meaning it contains. On the other side, the next generation of Muslim, whose circumstances and conditions are different from the Messenger of Allah, must continue to make practical application of Qur’anic statements that still take into consideration the main meaning it contains. With this argument, Amina believes that in an effort to maintain its relevance to human life, the Qur’an must be constantly reinterpreted by emphasizing the importance of an egalitarian perspective between the two genders. According to her, the text of the Qur’an with a feminine perspective will produce a style of interpretation that is able to understand women, fulfilling the concept of justice and equality before Allah Almighty.
In her study, Amina describes the origin of humans derive from a single nafs (self, psyche ego or soul) that is part of a paired system: the nafs and its zawj (pair, partner) -which is practically meant by men and women. While the essence of pairing is proliferating and spreading; which implies the essence of the creation of men and women is on the same position. Therefore, she emphasizes the quality of piety, the benefit of seeing the difference between them. The way the Qur’an sees three female characters in the Qur’an namely Mother of Prophet Moses, Maryam, and Queen Balqis. In her analysis, Amina argues that the superiority of men supported by society, state and doctrine in the name of religion, will only drown the image of Islam as a religion that makes piety as a measure of human quality before God. Wallahu a’lam bi shawwab  Ali Mujib