Islam and the first feminists


Women in Islam have slayed (with the sword and otherwise) for years. It’s a fact. But these facts are secrets. Just don’t read the Qur’an properly, or delve into the research and historical books, okay?

Most Muslim people I know don’t bother anyway. They’re afraid of seeing things they don’t want to know. Like how women have lots of rights and are just as entitled to freedoms as men. But why trade in facts when you can trade in the degradation and exploitation of women? Such fun.

Truth-bomb alert: the Qur’an is one of the most flexible pieces of text in history, and it’s pretty straightforward about this. It even spells it out for the reader: “Some of these verses are definite in meaning and others are ambiguous.”

A 29-word sentence in the holy book, for example, has more than 72 meanings in English. So, basically, people can pick and choose where they want to sow discord. Here’s the catch: the Qur’an also makes it clear that only God knows the true meaning of any of the verses. Thus, only God knows which verses are literal and which are not.

I’ll tell you what I know, though: you cannot derive meaning from something that does not exist. And there is no mention of the number 72 in the Qur’an. There is no promise that this number will manifest in virgins as a reward to ungovernable men with jihadist tendencies. Plot twist, if this verse did exist, then women would be afforded this gift in heaven as well. Because in the Qur’an, men and women are equal.

The Bible is addressed to men and refers to the second and third person in the masculine. In contrast, the holy book of Islam is the only scripture of the monotheistic religions to address both men and women. It talks of believing men and believing women, honourable men andhonourable women. And again, to make it clear, it talks of their equal standing in everything. What’s good for the guy is good for the gal!

And one of the gals who would receive a whole lot of goodness in heaven because of her killing in the name of Islam is Aisha.

But the idea of getting heavenly rewards for religious killings is fake, like a lot of other preachy beliefs, and only came into being some 300 years after the death of the Prophet. In fact, a lot of Islamic “laws” pertaining to women only came into being centuries after the revelation of the Qur’an. Like the obligation to wear hijab, and the restrictions on a woman’s right to education,work and fun.

But for now, let’s ignore the nonsense post-300 years and step back even further. To about 585 CE. Enter Khadija bint Khuwaylid, the Prophet’s first wife.

If Khadija, with respect and peace, was a Game of Thrones character she would be announced like this: “Khadija the great, first of her name, the pure one, the first believer, cornerstone of the Islamic faith, philanthropist, blessed in wealth, businesswoman, proprietor of more caravans than entire Arabian tribes, employer of the Prophet.”

Khadija al-Kubra (Khadija the Great) proposed to Muhammad. Yes, she asked himto marry her. These were still extremely patriarchal times; they preceded the feminist revolution that followed the solidification of Islam as a formal religion. Khadija’s influence is partly responsible for this feminist revolution. Yes, there was feminism. It existed in Islam. In fact, it existed in the Islamic world and was decreed in the Qur’an long before it existed in the West.

A lot of the rights afforded to women in the sixth century in the Islamic world were only afforded to women in the West in the 18th century. Twelve centuries later.

Many revelations in the Qur’an, believe it or not, serve to protect women. These revelations were enshrined in law. Shariah law today is not what it once was. But let’s not trade in facts, remember? Forbid we ruin the bullshit with truth.

Sixth-century laws made the education of girls a sacred duty and gave women the right to own property. Nowadays, men bury women up to the neck on property they probably stole from women and stone them. This is a fact.

Pre-Islam, women could not choose whether to marry or not but Islamic laws state that a woman must always give her consent for the marriage to be legitimate. Islam was also the first of the monotheistic religions to give women the right of inheritance and the right to earn: “Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned.”

Khadija was a single mother, a landowner, a wealthy businesswoman, the Prophet’s boss and, in later years, the only one who believed him when he came to her with the revelation of Islam. I honestly believe that, had it not been for this woman, Islam as we know it may not have existed.

Islam rose through Khadija. And her wealth.

As I utter these words, I wait for my fatwa. Bring it.

This is an edited extract from Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa, published by Penguin. Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a writer and journalist

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