Religion as a source of inspiration to encourage female leadership

Some notes to reflect on the lecture of Musdah Mulia 10-09-2013

Tonight and this weekend the floor will be to Prof. Musdah Mulia, as she will  break the ground for Religion as a source of inspiration to encourage female leadership in the domain of peace and reconciliation.

Muslim men being who they are, traditional Muslims who practice Islam according to their knowledge which is limited, and a next generation that in majority does the same, maintaining the orthopraxis of Islam, and although the numbers of male and female students on universities and higher vocational education is growing, they are not studying Islam like they study and critically analyze the contents of their subjects of learning. No one dares to break fresh grounds on doctrines, dogmatism or Islamic learning in general.

What is seen by society at large, by media and politicians as being ‘The Islam’ is a rigid form of traditional religion practiced by villagers who are not used to be criticized on their believes and practices, who are not used to go into dialogue about their religion and who are looking for security of believe and morals  in a society that they look upon as being moral insecure and doubtful. What connects Mosque visiting Muslim males is the mainstream Islam, serving them with a conservative outlook on life. They worship status quo. For example most of the imams are playing up to the mosque community otherwise they lose their job.

Which brings me to my first analytical term in my short reflection on religion as a source for peace building: The crooked growth of Islamic knowledge

The division of roles allows husbands to take the role of imam of the family and this gives him a certain dignity he will not give up easily. He ‘knows’ Islam although he does not. He will almost never admit that he knows not. Women do admit that they do not know Islam and endeavor to study and ask questions. They are eager to learn and like Judaism Islam is a religion of learning. Muslim women turn for the better in a short period but this brings them nowhere ….yet ! On the other hand: Muslim men never stayed that whole course.

For example most of the female Dutch converts have better knowledge of Islam than the dark eyed male she fell in love with. Still the role division is sacred and the female authority on religious affairs is doubtful.  And than again..  we are still talking about traditional knowledge, let alone bringing changes in thinking patterns or traditional patterns of behavior.

One other dimension is the variety of schools of learning and dogma, the variety of philosophies of life among the  Muslims in Europe who would have met in Mecca only. Because of the crooked growth of Islamic knowledge this fruitful diversity is not used to challenge the radicalization of a part of the Muslim youth.

This we can safely call ‘the crooked growth of Islamic knowledge’. Most of the time we see women who want to please men with their so called ‘Islamic knowledge’, They receive a pat on the back, like children who learned their first chapter of the Quran by heart.

Some Muslim women do not agree with independent Quranstudies because they doubt the ‘Islamicity’ of independent thinking all together and they do not have a point of reference, to be sure about their explorations.

The second term I want to earmark for this occasion is equality. Equality, like justice, is no easy ethical concept to approach or actualize as a quality in society among men and women. Equal for the law does not mean equal among each other or in society. The biggest mistake male Muslim scholars made till today is to interpret Quranic text about differences among human beings as being hierarchical. Being male or female, believer or unbeliever does not make you more valuable as a human being. Being more human makes you more valuable as a human being.. So we are looking for a clear Islamic definition of the human being and being human. 

Muslim women have to deal with:

  • outmoded and backward leadership of men,
  • but also with each other, for example: the perfect converts and the moral crusaders: the female champions of narrow mindedness;
  • and they have to deal with a biased portrayal of Islam and Muslim women in general.

Now, if there are ideas and goals there will be progress and movement forward. For many women their reality is justified or explained away. Women always take the moral blame in every social or political crisis situation, like we see in the so called Arab spring.

Some people claim to start shari’ah rule in a country and the first drastic disciplinary measure is: women should cover up and stay home. Instead of saying that during education and child upbringing, from a very young age, children should be taught that boys and girls are equal.

We need to develop an independent style of studying and reading the Quran like Asma Barlas calls it: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran. Women need to follow their own way of interpretation and analyzing texts of the Quran that will make them self-confident about their visions on life and turn them into independent believers, thinkers and debaters. Like Asma Barlas, Amina Wadud and Riffat Hassan, Musdah Mulia has proven herself to be a Muslimah reformist, a woman who incites change in her Islamic environment and a mover for peace and reconciliation.

Her staunch and relentless dedication to the plight of women’s equal status exemplified by her own way of living her life. In The Netherlands we show the inclination to ask questions like: since you bring all this change and new interpretations why there are still… and a whole list of wrongdoing is mentioned.

These type of questions do no justice to the enormous task ahead of a woman who is teaching at a university as well as grass root worker for the empowerment of women in society. We better ask her: what do you hope for? How do you see the future of women in Islam? Like Prof. Manuela Kalsky is doing in the Netherlands, she is working for the New We in Indonesia.

The role of religion as source for inspiration and  motivation is controversial, to say the least.

For the first time the revealed religions are outlawed in this part of the world and we have to rebuild the deconstructed religions. Especially Islam. We (Muslims) are not used to that situation.

The self-evident superiority complex of the Muslims should be demolished and young Muslims should rebuild and reinvent their religion in a way that gives answers to the questions of today and tomorrow; not of the past. That will be an intensive learning process and we need that process, to become active builders and guarantee our participation in a better world again.

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