Ironically, many Muslims, including scholars, often use the Koran to justify their treatment of women. When this treatment comes from tradition or religious interpretation, and is then strengthened by biased laws, women then become the victim of triple oppression: tradition, religion and law.
Oppression then becomes institutionalized and structured. Faqihudin Abdul Kodir, in his book Hadits and Gender Justice: Understanding the Prophet Traditions, strives to rectify misunderstandings surrounding the Prophet’s actions and behavior.
Since hadiths (written traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) are deemed by Muslims a secondary source of Islamic teaching after the Koran, Muslims acknowledge the pivotal role of the hadiths in explaining the meaning of Koran. Unfortunately, although codified more then one century after the death of the Prophet, many Muslims, including Islamic jurists, follow the hadiths without critical assessment.
They use hadiths without examining the text or pondering the social context of when they were released. Many hadiths have weaknesses in their text, and many hadiths cannot be understood properly if merely read from the text without considering the social context. In his book, Abdul Kodir conveyed some examples of hadiths often used by conservative Muslims to ban women’s involvement in public or political affairs; hadiths used to prohibit woman from leadership roles; and hadiths that produce unbalanced marriages between men and women.
In describing the crucial political role of woman, Abdul Kodir presents a dramatic moment after the treaty of al-Hudaibiyah agreed to by the Prophet. Most of his companions emotionally regarded the treaty as a humiliation for Muslims. Consequently, many of them either refused to accept it or did not support the decision made by the Prophet. Despite their refusal, the Prophet went ahead with it. The treaty required that the Prophet Muhammad should not be named as the Messenger of Allah. Further, the content of the treaty was felt to be very detrimental to Muslims, because Muslims were forced to return to Medina and not allowed to set foot in Mecca under any circumstance, even for the purpose of the pilgrimage. In return a ceasefire was announced.
In response to this treaty, Umar (ra) personally approached the Prophet and asked: “You are a prophet aren’t you?” “Yes,” the Prophet replied. “Aren’t we on the right path, and they are the misled ones?” “Yes.” “Then why do we have to accept being humiliated by this treaty?” The Prophet said, “I am the Messenger of Allah, I will never disobey what Allah has ordered me to do, and I am convinced that Allah will help me.” Another interesting, but also controversial, issue among Muslims today is polygamy. Abdul Kodir points out how with little or no regard to the historical context, men declare that they will wed multiple wives because they are following the precedent of the Prophet and thus acting virtuously.
“Conversely though, they do not follow the many other practices of the Prophet which ensured that women were treated with justice and love. For example, the Prophet’s additional wives were women who are poor, old, and ignored by society. In this, we know that the Prophet was marrying these women to protect them, and not for satisfying the desire for creating a harem,” the scholar wrote.
Learning from Abdul Kodir, we need to shift Muslims’ paradigm in reading the texts from textual normative-deductive into contextual historic-inductive by using the guidance of the principles of Islamic teachings in upholding justice and equality among humankind. Since the gender inequality often seen in society consists of ideological and institutional malaise, efforts to reconstruct society should be done through these two factors. Religion has a huge influence in Muslim-dominated Indonesia, therefore reforming the way of Muslims in understanding religious messages is important as a step toward reform.
(The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Gunung Djati State Islamic University in Bandung.)
(dimuat di Jakarta Post, 23 Oktober 2007)