Women's Quran Greenlighted by Religious Authority

December 31, 2008 07:02 AM
by Anne Szustek
Cairo's Al-Azhar University, considered Sunni Islam's top arbiter of doctrinal interpretation, has okayed its first interpretation of Islam's chief sacred text by a woman.

Quran Gets Female Touch

Female former religious broadcaster Kariman Hamza's interpretation of the Quran has been approved by Al-Azhar University. The significance of this recognition is two-fold. First, publishing of this version of the Quran can go forward; secondly, it establishes parity in Egypt between male and female theologians.

Sheik Ali Abdelbaqi Mitwali told Arabic-language Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm that interpretations of the Quran, considered by Muslims to be the irrefutable word of God, are valid regardless of the scholar's gender, just as long as "the interpretation was in line with the text of the sacred Koran and that it did not contradict the rulings of Sharia."

According to the tenets of Islam, the Quran can only be "interpreted," rather than translated or retooled to fit modernity. The Quran in its true form can only be in Arabic, as Muslims believe that was the language in which God spoke to the Prophet Muhammad. The intricacies of the language's three-consonant root system permits for multiple readings of some passages.

Earlier this year, the Diyanet, Turkey's state Directorate of Religious Affairs, embarked on a project to make the hadith, another body of Islamic holy texts considered to be the ways and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, more palatable to Westernized urban Turks.

Supporters of Turkey’s move say that many interpretations of Hadith passages, referred to individually as hadiths, have been colored by politics and used to defend human rights abuses, such as so-called “honor killings.” The term honor killing generally describes the murder of a woman by relatives who deem her behavior to have compromised the family reputation.

FindingDulcinea quoted Hülya Koç, a “vaize,” or female imam, as saying the Hadith has been used to condone “violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam.”

Background: Women's advancement in Saudi Arabia

Ruwaida al-Habis, 20, learned to drive on her family’s farm from her father, Hamad. So when he and her two brothers were seriously burned in a fire, Ruwaida did not think twice about breaking Saudi Arabia’s law forbidding women to drive.

Saudi law forbids women from driving on the grounds that it would allow unrelated members of the opposite sex to mix.

In February, Sheik Abdul Mohsen al-Obaikan issued an edict saying that “in principle, women driving is permitted in Islam.” This marked a positive step in a decades-old movement for sexual equality on the road in Saudi Arabia.

A women’s amateur basketball league has also helped to make inroads in terms of women’s health. The Jaguars and Jeddah United, in the Saudi seaport town of Jeddah, shed their all-enveloping abayas for jerseys to duke it out on the basketball court. Some clerics interpret Islamic holy texts to such a degree of severity that they can find scriptural justification for banning exercise, so sports events must remain largely underground affairs.

Reference: Quran and hadith

Related Topic: Bible gets modern revamps

A digitized version of the Bible and one featuring celebrities as key religious figures are two recent interpretations of Christianity's holy book. The "Bible Illuminated: The Book," first out in Sweden in 2007 and due on American bookstore shelves early next year, features verses in magazine format and uses pop culture icons such as Angelina Jolie, Muhammad Ali, Andy Warhol and Princess Diana to portray Biblical characters.

But for the Web savvy who like to keep their Scripture old school—or Old Testament, as it were—the Codex Sinaiticus, a 1,600-year-old text believed to be the oldest existing version of the New Testament, is to be entirely reproduced online by the British Library by July 2009.

Other recent versions of the Bible released in the hopes of appealing to younger tastes include Mecha Manga Bible Heroes, drawing from Japanese animation to tell the Gospel, as well as the Chronological Study Bible, in which sections and books of the Bible are changed so that they appear in historical context.

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