Why Muslim Women are Reinterpreting the Qur’an and Hadith: A Transformative Scholarship-Activism

barazangiOn April 14, 2016, Dr. Nimat Hafez Barazangi returned to the Gottesman Libraries to discuss her most recent book, Why Muslim Women are Reinterpreting the Qur’an and Hadith: A Transformative Scholarship-Activism. A Cornell research fellow and Teachers College alum, Dr. Barazangi understands the value of education, especially to marginalized populations. In her talk, she explained that women are often barred from higher Muslim education, which is deeper readings of the Qur’an. Without being able to engage with the texts and concepts of Islam at such a profound and community-based level, Muslim women are left at an extreme disadvantage.

One reason why it is important to include women in higher Muslim learning is that terms like Islam and Shar’ia are misunderstood at a global level. Dr. Barazangi detailed the differences between what people think Shar’ia is and what it actually is, as well as the ways in which people confuse the word of the Qur’an and the hadith. While Qur’an is considered to be law, the hadith are sayings or reports of the Prophet Muhammad. Many of these sayings have existed since the seventh century and have been misinterpreted in ways which disenfranchize Muslim women. Some interpretations of the hadith cause women to be kept secluded for the purposes of modesty, and men are given authority in Muslim learning by default. Dr. Barazangi added that these sayings, no matter how far from their original intention or how damaging they are to women, are frequently confused with the word of the Qur’an. These faulty translations, in conjunction with rising violence in radical religious movements and worldwide confusion regarding the terminology surrounding Islam on the whole, put Muslim women even farther behind their male peers.

Educating people with regard to including people across gender barriers in discussions of Islam is still considered a highly radical idea, so much so that Dr. Barazangi had to publish her work independently on the Internet to avoid publishers’ regulations and disclaimers. She acknowledged that her work was sad and frightening, but encouraged attendees to not be discouraged by this. Throughout her presentation, she emphasized that the path towards equality for Muslim women is difficult, long, and uncertain, but it is a path worth taking if we are to live in a better world. Attendees and presenters alike stayed long after the formal discussion was over and asked many insightful questions about how to move this noble cause forward. At its core, this book talk was a hopeful, knowledgeable, and powerful call to action as well as a wish for peace.

If you are interested in learning more, you can watch this book talk on Vialogues and continue the discussion virtually, or read Women’s Identity and Rethinking the Hadith, which is available in the main stacks on the fifth floor.