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Women’s Liberation Theology

OurIndonesia – Since the beginning, Islam has been understood as a religion of liberation, especially for the liberation of women. How then could misogynistic Arab society which accepted as natural the killing of girls and women, suddenly be directed to hold ‘aqiqah (an event to express thanks to God) for a girl’s birth, although it is merely a goat in the case of a girl and two goats in the case of a boy.

How does a society which does not recognize the concept of female bequest and witness suddenly give women the rights of inheritance and witness, even though they receive only half of the inheritance which men receive? Even the family of a woman who is murdered ought to receive the fine (diyat), though merely half of what a man’s family would be compensated.

How have woman, as mythic “complements” of man’s desire (Adam) suddenly been admitted as equal before Allah and given equal rights and duties as heaven’s occupants (Q.S. al-Baqarah, 2:35)? How have woman (Eve, for example) who had been imagined as the temptor of men (Adam) suddenly become sanitised through the vindication that it was both of them who were involved in the cosmic sin (Q.S. al-A’raf, 7:20).

Islam is a divine religion as well as a humanitarian and social religion (Q.S. Ali ‘Imran, 3:112). From an Islamic perspective, humans have two capacities, as slaves (‘abid) and as God’s representation (khalifah) without distinction regarding sex, ethnicity, and skin colour (Q.S. al-Hujrat, 49:13).

Becoming pious is the larger goal for all, and the quality of piety is not merely achieved through sacred endeavour (riyadlah nafsiyyah) but also through the awareness of other’s misery (Q.S. Al-Ma’un, 107:1-7). And in this regard, Islam, since the beginning, has affirmed that gender discrimination is a human rights violation for the misery it brings to women (Q.S.al-Nisa’, 4:75).

Islam commands people to pay attention to the concept of balance, harmony, compatibility and inter-human unity as well as to their environment. The concept of gender relations in Islam is more than merely the managing of gender justice, but theologically and teleologically arranging the relation mode between microcosmic (human), macrocosmic (environment) and God. Only through this can humans perform their functions as caliph, and it is only the successful caliph who can achieve the level of abid.

Islam introduces the gender relation concept as part of the objective of shari’a (maqashid al-syari’ah): that is in manifesting the justice and righteousness (Q.S. al-Nahl, 16:90), security and peace (Q.S.Q.S.al-Nisa’, 4:58), and in the call to righteousness and the prevention of evil (Q.S.Ali ‘Imran, 3:104).

These verses can be used as a framework for analyzing gender relations in the Qur’an. Men and women have the equal rights and duties in performing the role as caliph and slave. Regarding the professional role of women, there are no Qur’anic verses or Hadits, which are forbiden for women. On the contrary, AlQur’an and Hadits mostly indicate that women are permited to be professionals.

In the beginning of Islamic history, women had independence and supportive emotional milieus. Some of them were noted for their dazzling achievements, not only in the domestic sector but also in the public sector. Unfortunately, this is not the case any longer due to many factors such as the rising power of misogynistic kingdom’s cenered in Damascus, Baghdad and Persia. In addition, the unification and codification of the Hadits, Tafseer and Fiqh literatures are influenced by the local cultures which have further restricted women’s rights.

In the meantime, politics sustain the patriarchal tradition which benefits men. Various values have been directed and used to preserve the existence of unequal gender relations. Because the process has been sustained over such a long time, it has become part of society’s consciousness such that gender relations have become see as natural or kodrat/nature (in Arabic: kodrat or qudrah are determined by God). This pre-existent patriarchalism has only been intensified through the power relations which exist in modern-capitalist societies.

The stronger the power relation, the greater the gender role’s disparity in the society. This is because the value of the individual is measured through productivity and women are excluded being mainly consigned to the role of domestic production and reproduction. In these male-dominated societies (al-mujtama’ al-abawiy), it is the men who lay claim to the productive community and the public role.

If in the earlier period of Islam, women’s liberation was a central issue, there later evolved an Islamic tendency to restrict women’s rights. By the end of this century, many Muslim countries had experienced revolutions and reformations based on fundamentalist patriarchal Islamic values which heavily oppress woman.

A state’s Islamization is synonymous with keeping women at home and covering them in veils. Iran, Pakistan, Algeria, and Afghanistan are classic examples of this phenomenon in which women are prohibited from working in the public arena.

What relevance does this have locally? In the case of Indonesia, regional autonomy will give greater power to traditional and religious figures who might well use Sharia law to further restrict women’s potential and their fundamental rights. Is it too much to expect that Islam will not be used to oppress certain groups or women but on the contrary be used to benefit the oppressed?


The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.