by: Eka Julaiha

The scientific Islamic repertoire was added by phenomenal book al-Kitab wa Alqur’an: Qira’ah Mu’asirah  written by Muhammad Syahrur that brought out scientific debate among Muslim intellectuals, the pros and cons of Syahrur’s thoughts lead him to be one of  the contemporary Muslim intellectuals.

Muhammad Syahrur Daib was born in Damascus Syiria, 11 March 1938. His primary and secondary school was obtained in Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi education institution, he graduated in 1957 and continued study, majoring in enginering in Moscow. After that he became a lecture in Technical Faculty at Damascus University. Syahrur with his enginering education background also had a very deep interest in Islamic subjects, particularly analyzing verses related to Islam and women issues.

In reading Al Qur’an, Syahrur reconstructed Islamic thoughts by developing critical methods of contemporary Arab-Islam. According to him, the weakness in our thinking tradition is because: First, there is no clear reference in form of objective scientific method. Second,  pre-conception of a certain problem, Islamic thought did not utilize Philosophy and Humanities concept and did not interact with basic theories. Third, there were no contemporary Islamic theories in Humanities that had been directly concluded from the Holy Qur’an, and fourth the Muslim are experiencing a crisis in science of fiqh (especially the contemporary Islamic Jurisprudence and modern understanding). Syahrur did Qur’anic reading with his linguistic theory that the Qur’anic verses did not contain synonymity with its ‘theory of limit’ (nadhariyah hududiyah). Then, Syahrur did different reading and interpretation with other Muslim intellectuals.

How is Syahrur’s opinion on women in Islam, especially related to the polygamy verses? Quoting Anjar Nugraha’s analysis on Syahrur’s thoughts (1992) in al-Kitab wa-Alqur’an : Qira’ah Mu’asyirah on polygamy in Islam: 

The word ‘tuqsithu’ comes from ‘qasatha’ and ‘ta’dilu’ from ‘adala’. The word ‘qasatha’ in Lisan al-Arab dictionary has two contradictory meanings. The first meaning was al ‘adlu (QS.Al Maidah /5 : 42, al-Hujurat/49:9, al-Mumtahanah/60:8 ). While the second meaning was al-Dzulm wa al-Jur (Q.S. al-Jinn/72:14). So the word  ‘al-‘adl’, has two different meanings. It means ‘al-istiwa’ (read: same, straight), and ‘al-a’waj’ (crooked). There are two distinctions of two words. ‘Al qasth’ mean a fairness from only one side, while ‘al-‘adl’ should be from both sides. From the glossary meaning of the key words in QS. An Nisa’/4 :3  according to al-Kitab wa Alqur’an: Qira’ah Mu’asyirah by Syahrur, the verse should be interpreted in new version as (read : Syahrur’s view): 

“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans (of your widow wives), so don’t marry them. (but if you are able to deal with them justly, by taking care of the orphans) so  marry the widows (of your choice),  two, or three, or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to take care of their orphans, then only one wife or a slave which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice (because you are not able to take care of the orphans). “

If ‘the limit theory’ (nadhariyah hududiyah) of Syahrur will be implemented in analyzing the verse, it will create two limitations (al-hadd), those are had fi al-kam (limitation of quantity) and had fi al-kayf (limitation of quality). First on had fi al-kam, the verse explained on had al-adna or minimum number of wives according to sharia is one. While on had al-a’la or maximum numbers allowed is four. When somebody has one, two, three, or four wives, he does not break rules set by Allah, but if somebody has more than four wives, he has broken the rule of Allah. This understanding had been committed in the past fourteen century, without taking into consideration to context and condition of the limitation(had fi al-kayf).

Second, hadd fi al-kayf here means whether the wife is bikr (virgin) or tsayyib/ armalah (widow). Syahrur encouraged us to look at had fi al-kayf, because the written verse use shighah syarth (conditional sentence), according to Syahrur as if the sentence “fankihu ma thaba lakum min al-nisa matsna wa thulatsa wa ruba…” (marry the women of your choice two, three, or four) with required condition “wa in khiftum an la tuqsithu fi al-yatama…” (if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans). In another word, for the first wife, had fi al-kayf was not required, he is allowed to marry a virgin or a widow. But for the second, third, or fourth wife, the requirement of marrying armalah (widows with the orphans) is needed. Therefore, a husband who wants to marry more than one wife, should be responsible to take care of the wife and her orphan children. This situation, according to Syahrur will suit with term ‘adl (fair) which must be seen from two sides, treating the children fairly from the first wife and the orphan from the following wife (Syahrur, 1992: 598). 

His interpretation was also strengthened by the closing verse “dzalika adna an la ta’ulu”, because  ya’ulu coming from aul means katsratul ‘iyal (many children which should be taken care). The Islamic teaching on polygamy, not merely about rights and privillege of the husband to have more than a wife, but more essentially is to take care of the orphans. Therefore the context of polygamy here which is not required is ‘adalah (fairness) among the wives (please see. QS an-Nisa/4:129).

Understanding Syahrur’s thought in explanation of the verse on polygamy in characteristic of fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) as a logical product (ijtihad), means accepting its consequences as science: 1) fiqh as a science is a sceptical thing 2) fiqh as a science must be ready to be examined and relearned 3) fiqh as a science is not immune from critics. This means the progressive religious thoughts will become continuous studies according to time context, as required by Syahrur in deconstruction and reconstruction of the contemporary Islamic Jurisprudence.

Furthermore, if we look at daily life practices of Indonesian society, the polygamy still exists because of a strong patriarchal ideology, helpless women’s situation, uncritical religious thought of the family, state versus religious (Islamic) authority of Law. The people also don’t take lessons learned about the broken family caused by polygamy. It is forgotten that polygamy is indeed about the protection to women and the orphans. [] Eka Julaiha


Source of Reference : 

Syahrur, Muhammad. 2004. Al-Kitab wa Alqur’an: Qira’ah Ma’ashirah, had been translated  in a book entitled Prinsip dan Dasar Hermenetika Alqur’an Kontemporer., The Principal and Basic of Contemporary of the Quranic Hermeneutic, Yogyakarta : eLSAQ Press   

Afif, Wahab. 1991. Fikih (Hukum Islam), the Fiqh (Islamic Law) in his inaugural speech of Professor degree. 

Basya, M. Hilaly. Interview under the title Menimbang Poligami (Scaling the Polygamy), Jurnal Perempuan. vol.31.

Nugraha, Anjar. Penerapan Teori Batas (Nadhariyah Hududiyah) Muhammad Syahrur dalam Kasus Poligami. (Implementation of the Theory of  Limit or Nadhariyah Hududiyah of Muhammad Syahrur in Polygamy Cases). 


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