By : Maman Abdurrahman

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd is not a strange name in the eyes of progressive thinkers in Indonesia. He is known with his intellectual work which provoke debates as well as controversy for many people. He was born in Cairo 1943 and passed away on July 2010. He is a productive thinker which author several books . Among his intellectual work are  Mafhûm al-Nash: Dirâsah fi `Ulûm al-Qur’ân (the Text Concept : a Quranic Studies), Isykâliyyât al- Qirâ’ah wa Aliyât al-Ta’wîl (the Reading Problems and Interpretation Method) and his work regarding women issue is Dawair al- Khauf: Qiraah fi Khitab al Mar’ah which had been translated in Bahasa Indonesia under the title “Dekonstruksi Gender: Kritik Wacana Perempuan dalam Islam” (The Gender Deconstruction : The Critics of Women’s Discourses in Islam). This article will elaborate Abu Zaid’s thought in the last book at a glance. 

He was also known as an honest and brave thinker who dare to express what he believe as a ”truth” although he often takes a risk to be labeled as “misguided” and evicted from his land of birth, Egypt. The “crime” which had been inflicted to him because he try to express his thought in a book which provide a dialogue on contemporary muslim problems which is related to the way understanding the text. Abu Zayd viewed that the use of ‘logic’ and strong rational argumentation is important in understanding islam. Therefore, for Abu Zayd Ijtihad is a way that should be taken in solving the problems which are faced by muslim although will take a risk that the result of ijtihad will be wrong or mistaken. 

Among of his effort is by giving a ‘meaning’ for the Islamic text. The ‘meaning’ referred to ‘new meaning’ which will give a more sense of justice for human being in general, and particulary for women. To produce the “new meaning” a methodolody of understanding the Quranic and Hadith texts is needs.Then Abu Zaid proposed an idea of “contextual reading method” (Manhaj al-Qira’ah as-siyaqiyyah).Abu Zaid recognized that the method he proposed actually is not something new; but it is more a development of the existing traditional ushul fiqh method and a continuation from the thoughts of the previous ulamas and Islamic thinkers such as Muhammad Abduh and Syeikh Amin al-Khuli. 

Abu Zayd’s Method of Reading 

In the Abu Zayd’s contextual reading, he used the existing tools that had been used by the ulama of Ushul, such as the knowledge of asbab an-Nuzul (causation of the revealed texts), Nasikh-Mansukh,  and linguistic. If the ulama of ushul pointed to the asbab an-Nuzul (causation of the revealed texts) in understanding the meaning which exist in the Quranic or Hadith text, then in the ‘contextual reading’ seeing the problems from a wider perspective  those are the whole socio historical context at the time of revelation. By understanding the such context,  the interpreter can assert the meaning of authentic revealed text with the religious tradition and custom of the pre-Islamic society. 

There is a different in the method that were used by the ulama of ushul with the Abu Zayd’s contextual reading in concluding the lawas. If the ulama of ushul would prefer to the general pronunciation of the text rather than specific causation  (al-ibrah bi-umum al-lafdh la bi-khusus as-sabab), while Abu Zayd’s contextual reading distinguished between the historical meaning which is taken from the contextual  situation of the verse text in one hand,  and in the other hand the “significance” which is indicated from the meaning of the socio historical situation context. Abu Zayd explained that the significance is very important with the condition it comes from the historical meaning and have a strong relation; and the significant should not be lust tendency of the interpreter.  

In addition of the whole socio-historical context before and during the revelation era, the contextual reading also showed that there are some other levels of context that should  be noticed. First, the continuity context of revelation (siyaq tartib an-nuzul) that is historical chronology of the revelation context. This is extremely different with the sequence of reading in the surah and verses  of the Quran.  According to Abu Zayd, the historical chronology of the revelation context can revealed the meaning and its indications, while reading the Quran based on its sqquence of the surah and verses will revealed the “significance” and effect. In Abu Zayd’s contextual methods of interpretation, both of the two context are used together.  

Second, the narrative context (siyaq as-sard). In the contextual reading method, taking into consideration of the narrative context is something that can’t be neglected. By using this method we will see the differences about the meaning of the texts which  clearly mentioned and through narration, dialogues, description, threats and promises as well as lesson and warning.  

Third, the language structural context (mustawa at-tartib al-lughawi). This context is more complex than language grammatical sequences because it will analyze the relation such as the seclusion, connectivity, concealment, appearance, designation, elimination, repetition and etc. By taking into consideration to the such language structure, it is expected that the deepest meaning of the text will be revealed. In practicing the such language context, we will not stop only in the balaghah (literature) science, but also will utilize the “discourse analysis” and “text analisys” tools. In implementing it in reading the hadith for example, there will be a combination between the matan critique (critique of the content) and sanad critique (critique of the sequence of narrators). Another thing to be considered in this context is the need of interpreter readiness in distinguishing the words of the Prophet regarding his capacity as Prophet and Messenger of God that should be followed and  his common words  which can be followed or left in accordance to his capacity  as ordinary people/human being. 

Contextualization of Text Reading in Women’s Issues 

The contextual reading method when it is applied to women issues, then an interpreter (mufassir) should analyze the religious text critically regarding the socio-historical context which happened during the revelation time. Abu Zayd called it with a “bridge” or a “cross point’ between ‘condition in the past’ and ‘the new condition’. The process to unite the text with its context was named by Abu Zayd as “a process to refinding the original meaning” ((isti’adah al-ma’na al-asli).

In a more concrete “contextual reading method”, we will see how to understand QS. An Nisa’ (2) : 3 on the nikah (marriage) and thalaq (divorce) issues. The context of Surah was revealed after Uhud War; which situation of the time so many muslim passed away and it cause several people become widow and orphans. Understanding this text, Abu Zayd proposed an a idea that by looking at the context and the language structure of the verse “the conditional forms which related to the ability (al-ibahah) and the fear of injustices that will happened to the orphans affirmed that the command word was not an eternal tasyri’ command (a command of doing Islamic teaching); but the laws that is concluded with time to solve the problems that came up” . In addition to that, Abu Zayd also perceived that in understanding the such text must involving the equality (musawah) spirit as a basic  principle as described in the process of “creation and formation” of human being from “a single soul”, that no difference one another. Here is a glance of Abu Zayd’s thoughts in understanding religious text which finally lead him to his progressive thought and attitude to the struggle for the equal relation between men and women. Wallahu a’lam bi as-shawab. Allah Knows best! {}


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