Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Being tied to a medieval conception of religion will not help the Islamic world or the world in general. Rather than looking at Islam through the lenses of Sharia and hudud rules, we should undertake a cultural and religious revolution. This way, we can avoid useless fatwas and dangerous misunderstandings, said Ashgar Ali Engineer, of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, as spoke to AsiaNews about a recent fatwa (non-binding religious ruling) issued by a religious scholar in Uttar Pradesh.
In one of his latest edicts, Sharif Mohd Ayyub Alem Rizvi, mufti of Darul Iftah, said that women could work in institutions under “certain conditions”, one of which is wearing the veil. Furthermore, “Muslims,” the Islamic legal expert said, “cannot work in banks because interests (a bank’s profit) are contrary to Qur’anic law.”
This fatwa comes a few days after the Darul Uloom Deoband (Islamic School in Deoband) announced that the income women earn working in public offices alongside men is haram (prohibited).
Both fatwas share a literalist approach to Sharia and both appeared in the Times of India, raising a storm in India.
”Why apply these shar’i hudud only to women?” Ali Engineer said. “Who will define their limits? For these ulema, any mixing of men and women is an act of fitna (mischief). For them, a woman’s character and integrity has no meaning or significance at all. If she lifts the veil from her face in a mixed gathering, she is transformed into a fitna”.
Yet, “There are several instances in the Holy Prophet’s life when men and women came together,” he said. “Hazrat A’isha even led the Battle of Jamal (aka Battle of the Camel) and hundreds of sahaba (companions) were around her. No one told her not to venture out of home to take part in the battle. Shifa bint-e-Abdullah, a leading woman, was appointed by Hazrat Umar as market inspector and no one protested. What was she doing as a market inspector? Dealing with women alone?”
However, for Engineer, things get more complicated when it comes to the veil. “The Qur’an, which is the primary source for Sharia, does not refer to hijab (veil) for ordinary women at all. On the other hand, it advises women not to display her zeenah (adornments) publicly (Qur’an, 24:31) but refrains from defining what constitutes zeenah or adornment.” Instead, the latter “has been defined by various commentators depending on their cultural environment.”
The fact is, “The Qur’an does not even say whether they should cover their heads, let alone their faces. It says, on the other hand ‘except what appears thereof’ leaving space for interpretation. There is near agreement among commentators that face and hands should remain open.”
What is more, this “verse is preceded by advice to both men and women,” telling them that they “are responsible for lowering their gaze. Instead, the entire responsibility is put on women that they should cover themselves including their faces, lest they should become source of fitna (mischief).”
Actually, the Qur‘an requires “both men and women to restrain themselves. It is unfortunate that when it comes to women we totally ignore even what can be called maqasid al-shari’ah (the intentions of Sharia) and only women are held responsible for her behaviour.”
For Ashgar Ali Engineer, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) “has to be thoroughly revised in keeping with the true spirit of the Qur‘an. One needs to develop a proper methodology and framework to understand Qur‘anic intentions in [their] totality, not in pieces, as our commentators have been doing.”