Veiled Women Unveiling God: Understanding the Qur’an Through Its Women Characters

Veiled Women Unveiling God: Understanding the Qur’an Through Its Women Characters


(gentle guitar music) – Good afternoon, and
thank you for your patience while our capacity crowd
is settled and gets lunch. I’m Ann Braude, the director
of the Women’s Studies and Religion program, and am very happy to welcome
you to this last event of our lecture series for this semester. And I also want to thank our colleagues at the Center for the
Study of World Religions for hosting us today. We’re very, very pleased
to be here in this space. Before we begin, I want to
announce our two spring lectures from two other research
associates in the program. On February 20th, a
Wednesday, in the Braun Room at one o’clock we will hear
from Professor Wylin Wilson, who’s with us today, who will
speak about her book project, Sick and Shut-in, the Black Church and Black Women’s
Persistent Health Crisis. And then finally, our
last lecture for the year will be on April 3rd,
when Damaris Parsitau, where are you, Damaris? Oh, there she is, there’s Damaris. who lives here in the center for the year. And she will be speaking on April 3rd, also at one o’clock,
about her book project, The Kingdom of Holy Women,
Pentecostalism, Sex, and Women’s Bodies in an African Church. She’s visiting with us from Kenya. Today I’m very happy to have the chance to introduce Professor Zahra Moballegh. It’s such a pleasure to have Zahra with us this year in the Carriage House. She is Assistant
Professor at the Institute for Humanities and
Cultural Studies in Iran, and holds a visiting appointment at the University of Tehran, where she teaches in the
Department of Philosophy. She specializes in philosophy
in Islamic thought, and has published several articles in Zanan-e Emruz, Women of Today, the leading magazine for
women’s voices in Iran. Her book, Faith as Reason, an Epistemological Approach
to Feminist Theology, was the first Persian language book about feminist philosophy. Dr. Moballegh spent eight years
at Encyclopaedia Islamica, where she wrote many entries
about Quranic concepts, including a recently-published
one, Women in the Quran, which gave birth to the book project that she’s going to be
speaking with us about today. I can’t tell you how illuminating it is for all the research associates and everyone at the school to
have Zahra with us this year. We learn every day about the riches of the vibrant intellectual culture that she comes from in Tehran, as well as she surprises us constantly with her knowledge of
American feminist thought in religious studies and theology. She’s leading us into
material that we think we should know better than she does, but she’s so focused on the
books that she leads the way. So I’m happy to introduce Zahra Moballegh. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much. Thank you, Professor Braude, for inviting me here and for your support. And thank you, everyone,
for joining us today. I welcome you. The research that I want
to share with you today is titled Veiled Women Unveiling God, Understanding the Quran
through its Women Characters. And it is proposed to be a
revision of the depiction of women in the Quran
and Islamic literature. The idea of rethinking
women’s picture in the Quran was formed in my mind
first when I was writing the entry of Women in the Quran for the Encyclopaedia
of the Word of Islam. It was a hard task for me,
because you know that there are many implausible presuppositions
and negative assumptions about the concept and the
position of women in Islam, one source of which has
been the Quran’s text. In much of Islamic literature,
in Quran’s interpretation, tradition in Islamic law,
philosophy, and theology, you know that women
has been supposed to be a secondary and incidental being, and she’s described as passive, dependent, emotional, lacking rationality and faith. That because of all these problems, she merits less social and
economic rights than a man does. So to expiate her offenses, she has to obey men of faith and reason, and she should be entirely at the service of her father or her husband. Moreover, the God of Islam has directly been represented as male. Men were supposed to be divine,
and women far from divinity. However, as a Muslim woman who has repeatedly read the Quran, I couldn’t accept that
God is a divine male who imposed an androcentric religion and system of values to us. So I tried to listen
to sacred text of Islam to hear its very voice, not the peals men that of wealth and power had clamored around the text. Reading the text itself, regardless of the massive
literature formed around it, I could watch a completely
different narrative. Looking at the Quranic narrative itself, in spite of all the historical
and ideological context, one can observe a live,
magnificent performance in which the narrator gets
different, novel heroines out of the curtain of
patriarchal societies. These heroines are independent agents, acting and thinking wisely in continuous conversations
with the divine, and partaking this course with people to improve a human situation. Their most important characteristics are their strong faith
and confidence in God, and taking care about the others. Watching this live
performance from the Quran is not, in fact, so difficult. One has simply to listen
to the text itself and let the text speak with her own voice, not imposing one’s personal conceptions and ideological
interpretations to the text. One can hear the text as a combination of voices and silences. In order to obtain a more reliable picture of women from the Quran, you are just to approach the
text as a living narrative who can disclose herself by
her voiced and silenced words. In what follows, like the
style of the Quran’s narrator, I try to explain our research process and some of its results
in a concise manner. And in accordance with the
Quran’s narrator’s style, I want to leave discovering the sociopolitical implications
of this research for you. I won’t talk about such implications, but I’m sure that you
can hear my silent words. (audience chuckling) Okay, so this research is about rereading the Quran as a narrative, and through its women characters,
or the stories of women. But why narrative, and
why stories of women? By the term narrative, we
mean the very well-known and inclusive definition as
a discourse stating facts or events linked together
in a temporal sequence, and with causal link. When regarding a text as a narrative, we deprive it of all its social context and historical roots. Doing so, it is not of importance where and when the text has been produced. In such an approach, we put
the divine nature of the text as a sacred revelation, or
wahy in Islam, in parentheses. We don’t take into account
the ideological beliefs and theological doctrines about the text. In all, we try to neglect the historical, political, and ideological literature that has been developed around
the text as far as possible. In a narratological approach
we try to close our eyes to the different paratexts so we can get closer to the text per se. Thus, the text is valuable in itself, not as a sacred revelation
nor as a historical document. This approach provides us the possibility to let the text speak for herself. A narratologist listens to the text to discover all the implicit
and silenced meanings of the text throughout the textual signs and indications within the text, nor beyond, neither
paratext, neither hypertext. In addition to this, encountering the text as a flowing narration of life, one can reconstruct a completely different discourse of interpretation. Getting out of the cliches
made by the authorities, one can see the Quranic text as a narrative world which
is constantly in process. This world portrays people
in their real lives, with all kinds of emotions, ambitions, right and wrong decisions, and reactions. People of the text are not fixed models or specific archetypes
of some kinds of people. They are living beyond the
words which describe them. They experience sufferings, joys, hopes, angers, anxieties,
fear, and trembling. These people are not
the historical figures who are passed away, nor
frozen in a far past. They live in and at the present tense. The reader of the text as such can’t help herself going into this world and feeling impacted with those people. Many textual indicators in the Quran invite the narratee to feel as
she is present at the scene, and in many cases, she feels as she can be active in reconstructing the events. And finally, from a
narratological point of view one can ask about the narrator of the text instead of the historical author. When a narratologist
asks who is the narrator, she is searching to
find a textual identity from whose point of
view and by whose voice the text is narrating. This identity is not the same as the implied historical author, and the identity of such a narrator has been entirely ignored in the abundance of
Quranic studies literature. A narrative-based approach to the Quran conducts a procedure of
interpreting the text that encourages reader
to unmask the narrator and to contribute in the process
of meaning reconstruction. We can call such process
of encountering the text as hermeneutics of unveiling. Now, our second element
was the stories of women. Why did we choose the stories of women for discovering a more authentic picture of women in the Quran? We can study Quranic
indications about women and femininity in three textual levels. In language, religious prescriptions
for women, and stories. Among these three levels, we had good reasons to
choose stories as our source. The first reason is
that stories or fictions have clearly the narrative structure which fits completely our
narratological approach. But we had more reasons. A most, a very important reason is that positive female
characters in the text can be regarded as the best models of good women from
narrator’s point of view. It means that the whole depiction of good women in the stories should be consistent with the collection of Quran’s prescriptions for Muslim women. More importantly, when a narrator chooses the fiction or story genre,
she is intentionally choosing to hide one or some of
her proposals in the text, and leaves the reader to
discover a hidden meaning. In other words, creating the
text in the form of fiction or story provides it with
hidden levels of meaning, and usually puts some points in the deeper levels of the text. This very nature of the story in turn invites the narratee to deal
deeply with the narrative, to be interactive in
making sense of meaning, and to uncover the hidden points. So if we are setting off to discover a new picture of woman
in the Islamic sources, a picture that has been invisible so far, the Quranic stories should be
among our first candidates. For these reasons, we can expect that a narratological approach
to the stories of women in the Quran will bring about
new, flourishing results, flourishing against powerful, resistant male-centered
clamors around the text. Now let’s cut to the chase and take a look at the stories of women in the Quran. As you see in these tables, there are 17 female figures
in the Quranic stories. 13 female figures are
represented as heroines or protagonists or supporting characters, and four ones, these ones,
which are positive characters, are less than minor characters. They do not have any action or voice, and just mentioned in the
dialogues of other characters. To analyze the stories of
these 17 female characters, firstly we try to answer these questions. First, how are female characters developed and presented,
represented in the stories? Second, what do the explicit, implicit, and silenced contents
illustrate about gender? And third, can we find a way to the narrator’s identity
via these stories? Now let’s examine one of the
shortest stories in the Quran, in which a woman has a brief appearance. This is the story of Abraham
and messengers of God. It is similar to the story of Abraham and the three angels in the Bible, Genesis 18, but there are
some important differences. It is narrated three times in the Quran. The differences between the three versions of this story are very crucial. The shortest version reads, and informed them about
the guest of Abraham. When they entered to
him and said, “Peace,” he said, “We are indeed afraid of you.” They said, “Don’t be afraid. “Indeed, we give you good
tidings of a wise son.” He said, “Do you give me good tidings “’til old age has befallen me? “What sort of good tiding is it?” They said, “We bring you
good tiding in truth, “so do not be despondent.” It is a very short while complete story. There is no indication to any
woman character in the story. But this very story is
narrated two other times in slightly different and
more elaborated manners. Let’s read them and
compare the three versions. Certainly our messengers came to Abraham with the good tidings. They said, “Peace,” he said, “Peace.” Presently he brought
for them a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands
not reaching towards it, he was suspicious and
full of fear of them. They said, “Fear not. “We have been sent to the people of Lot.” His wife, standing by, laughed, so we gave her good tidings of the birth of Isaac
and of Jacob after Isaac. She said, “How to me shall I give birth “when I am an old woman, “and this husband of mine is an old man? “It is indeed an odd thing.” They said, “Marvel you
at the command of God. “The grace of God and
her blessings upon you, “people of this house.” “Truly she is all-laudable, all-glorious.” And the third version reads, did you receive the story
of Abraham’s honored guests? When they entered into him, they said, “Peace,” he said, “Peace, “you are an unfamiliar folk.” Then he retired to his family and brought a fat calf
and put it near them. He said, “Will you not eat?” Then he felt a fear of them. They said, “Do not be afraid,” and gave him the good tidings of wise son. Then his wife came forward, surprised, smoothed her face and
said, “A barren old woman?” They said, “Thus has your Lord said. “Truly she is the
all-wise, the all-knowing.” In these this is a picture
of this story from the Bible. In these more detailed versions, the plot, the moral, theme, and setting seem to be the same as
the previous version. But only a new character
is added to the story. This new character is Abraham’s wife, Sarah, as indicated in the Bible. She is described as an old woman who normally cannot be pregnant. Approximately at the middle of the story, she joins the events,
and the act of marveling at angels’ prediction is ascribed to her. At first glance, it seems
that her role in the story is simply to be a substitution
for Abraham’s marveling, and may be because the good
news for a prospective son implies a woman to gestate it. So her role seems to be
secondary or accessorial. In all, her presence is not essential to the progress of events. She only imitates the dialogues
of the main male character. If you eliminate her, you can
still have a complete story, the story of Abraham,
like in the first version. This has been the standard
reading of this Quranic story. Sarah is understood as an imitating biddy at the endmost point of the story. Hence, in the history of the story she has been depicted
at the darkest margins of the readings of this story,
if she’s depicted at all. As you can see in this
page, can you find her? Yes. Now let’s watch the
fragments as a narrative, and through the lenses
of our three questions. How is Sarah characterized here? At the beginning of this
story, or in the first act, she is behind a wall, in the interior part of
the house, in the recess. She he is helpful and hospitable, since Abraham goes to her location and after awhile he
comes back with a calf. Besides, we can infer that she has a lovely and close
relationship with her husband. The repeated word aa, or family, in the second and third versions, and the plural pronouns and
verbs in the first version used by Abraham for explaining
his and his wife’s fearing connote an intimate
relationship between the couple. And at the second act, Sarah
is standing by the door. The words standing and came forward show that she is taking
care about her husband, whereas she is behind the door, but we can discover that
she is worried for Abraham. And the word standing by
shows some kind of anxiety and caring about someone, so
she cares about for the others. But after she hears joyous
news about the child, she can’t help herself staying there. So in the last act and at
the climax of the story she appears on the stage
while being surprised, laughing, and hopeful. After her presence on the stage,
all attentions turn to her. The divine messengers in the third version and the interfering narrator
in the second version directly speak to her. She directly makes a dialogue with the divine, with the angels. She then forms a simple argument. We are old and barren, so
how can we have a child? Consider her kind of
argumentation carefully. She doesn’t make a traditional syllogism, like if P then Q, not Q so not P. Her argument shows her
practical kind of thinking. She does not argue in terms of a rigidly determined truth label. She argues in terms of a changing life. She doesn’t say, it is not possible, never and ever, that an old
barren couple has a child. She rather asks a question,
how is it possible? So her logic is not based on determinism and absolute certainty. In contrast, her logic
is based on possibility and flexibility of real life. According to this logic,
instead of insisting on the truth of her propositions,
she asks questions. And instead of remaining in a
fixed position, she has hope. This way of thinking
denotes a kind of wisdom different from rationality as such, which is based on thinking
through deeply lived experiences, and hopefulness and practical insights. In addition to this,
analyzing angels’ speeches shows that Sarah is a faithful woman. She knows God through the
names of Rabb and Allah, and she is confident that
God’s promise goes through. At the end of the narrative she is only listening to the angels, so her last action is listening faithfully to the divine words which say God’s grace and blessing upon you. These are the most
important characteristics of Sarah in this narrative. Now let’s put a step backward
and watch the whole scene to discover the narrator’s point of view. Where is the narrator standing? Analyzing the didactic words and phrases in these three narratives shows that the narrator is standing at the center of Abraham’s
exterior hall or yard. In all the verbs, entered
to him, came to Abraham, brought for them, and
again, entered to him, show that the narrator is standing at the center of the hall. At the same time, the
narrator is in third person, omniscient, aware of
Abraham’s inner feelings, and reporting objectively what
is happening on the stage. In the second version, the we narrator is explicitly part of the story, declaring the angels are sent by us, and developing the story
as our intended plan, and speaking directly to Sarah, says, “We promised her Isaac.” The narrator introduces itself as the efficient cause of the events. Exactly unlike Sarah, the
narrator is omniscient and knows everything for
sure and with certainty. Not only certainty is
part of narrating style, the events in the story
are also progressing according to a teleological causality which is based on the
pre-established plan of the narrator. So our narrator looks at the events from at least three points of view, from the above and outside the scene, from inside Abraham’s heart,
and from Abraham’s mind. The narrator is a character
within the narrative at the same time and is
beyond the narrative world, while it also is standing
at the didactic center. So it has access to a
complex point of view. Another step backward. What is the point of this narrative? Why has the narrator
narrated this story at all, and why it narrated the story in this way? These questions are more
difficult to answer. Can we find some textual signs and indicators within the narrative itself to find an answer to these questions? To approach this questions, we analyze the structure
of Quranic stories, looking for some kind of reason or logic according to which the narrator inserts certain stories in the text. We found that almost all
the stories in the Quran are included in the text
according to a simple logic. As you can see here, each
chapter or surah in the Quran carries an underlying
theme or message or idea. This idea is usually declared explicitly at the beginning or at
the end of the chapter. Not all chapters or surah contain a story, but in chapters including
one or more stories, the stories are often
brought into the chapter in order to insist, empower, or explain that main idea or message. For example, in chapter 27, surah An-Naml, the chapter designates such a structure. The main idea is that God
has revealed a divine book, that is Quran, to Muhammad, which is like a miracle or endowment, while many people do not accept it. Then some stories of
different prophets are told. All of these stories are
about different miracles and endowments given to prophets, and the denial of these
divine gifts by unbelievers. This strategy of storytelling opens a historical window
in front of the reader to see that similar lines of events have happened in the
lives of other prophets. Influenced by these similarities, the audience is persuaded
to accept the main idea of the chapter as true or
as a strong possibility. Though very simplified,
this is the main structure of most Quranic stories within a chapter. Now we turn to our own
story of Abraham and Sarah. This story, however, does not follow the dominant structure
of the Quranic stories. The second and third versions of the story don’t show any connection to
the message of all the chapter. This story seems to be
detached from the central text, and remains only in the
margins of the chapter. So we have a serious problem
in finding the narrator’s strategy or intention
in bringing this story. Furthermore, this story doesn’t follow a very important principle
in Quranic narrative, the principle of brevity or brevitas. It is an inclusive rhetorical
style in all the Quran’s text. The Quranic narrator eliminates
whatever that can be put out of the text for the sake of brevity, while as you have seen,
this story contravenes this important style by
bringing Sarah to the story as an unnecessary character in the third and second versions. So what is going on here? Is the narrator reversing
all its narrative principles and strategies in this story? Conforming to Chekhov, should we remove this irrelevant gun from the text? From a narratological point of view, we can definitely answer no. This is an intentional
and conscious deviation. Examining this narrative with all its elaborated elements for Sarah uncovers a very important point about the narrator’s intention. This story altogether is a play, a kind of pretext to unveil
a woman behind veils, to get her out of her recess
and to bring her on the stage. The narrator wants to remind us of a woman who has been neglected in all the history, an old woman who is not even a mother, without any special characteristic. She is not very beautiful, not powerful, a complete example of an ordinary woman, a simple housekeeper, one that has been invisible
in all texts and contexts. Our narrator intentionally draws back the curtains of history
to let us watch her story. The narrator purposely desires its narrative include this character, so there is no need for any pretext to bring Sarah into the text. In contrast, all of this text is a pretext for her appearance in the text. In this way, our omniscient,
omnipotent narrator at the climax of the story decides to put Sarah in the
center of the mise en scene. Sarah is now the heroine
of this narrative, the shining character. Nonetheless, almost
all Muslim interpreters have ignored her or
conceived her at the margins. The story of Sarah is one of the shortest stories of women in the Quran, yet as you saw, it has many
connotations and implications. We analyzed all stories
of women in the Quran by a similar methodology to
see how women are represented and characterized in the Quranic stories, and why they are represented so. The results brought about an entirely different picture of women in the text. I’ll tell you some of the results concisely and in three parts. Characterization, implicit
and silenced contents, and the narrator’s identity. In the study of characterization, we try to draw out all
qualities and properties of female characters in the stories. Though the stories are not so long, we inferred many characteristics. It is due to the fact that
each woman in the stories is represented as a completely different and independent character. There are no fixed and
repeated cliches of femininity. Here the results of analyzing eight, these eight female characters. These are the female positive characters. So the minor positive
characters that do not have any dialogue or action are
not included in this table. The most frequent
property, as you can see, is dialogues with God,
then is spiritual potency, then caring for the others,
then faithful to God, then wisdom, and you can see the rest. In total, to pile up and
incorporate these many properties, we can imagine all these
eight female characters as a unique woman which is
an integrated character. Keep this woman in mind, and
we will elaborate her image. So how to explain this table of properties to reach an understanding of the meaning of gender
and woman in the Quran? Considering the frequency
of these properties, you can group all the
properties in three clusters. In the first cluster, you
have the first two properties, that is dialogue with God
and spiritual potency, which form together about 32%, about one third of all the properties. Then you have the most inclusive cluster, formed by properties with
frequencies between 6.5 to 2%. This cluster forms about
56%, approximately two thirds of our imaginary integrated
female character. These properties altogether
construct a complex concept of what we decided to
entitle as relational wisdom, which has nothing in common with the modern concept of rationality. Okay. This relational wisdom makes
sense in its connection to the concepts of the
others and interaction. The reasoning activities
by our female characters are connected closely to
their real-life experiences. All of the women’s arguments
in the Quranic stories are affected by a kind
of practical insight. The arguments denote a
kind of probabilistic logic which takes the real,
changing life into account. Hope is an important element
in their thinking model. Additionally, this wisdom is developed through a practical insight
arising from life experience. Our women in the stories do not make their decisions in isolation. Their decisions are not abstracted from the real life and others’ lives. They consider many actual and practical aspects in making decisions. Surviving the others’ lives and values are decisive in their way of thinking. They usually reflect
on future possibilities and results of any decision. Another significant element
of this wisdom is empathy. Our women try to understand
the other through empathy and taking the others’ desires
and benefits into account. Yet they are courage, decision-making, and they set up acting
to improve a situation. Besides, an inclusive emotion or passion underlies most of these passages. That is faith or believing
in God’s presence. Therefore, the second cluster designates a kind of wisdom which is an integration of theoretical, practical,
and divine reason. If I want to speak in terms
of philosophical terminology, this wisdom is somehow similar to the Aristotelian notion of Phronesis, which contains intellectual and practical values and virtues together, in addition here to a divine insight. The last and smallest cluster which forms 12% of our
integrated female character contains different properties. Among them are the properties which are more familiar
as female features, like housekeeping and beauty and seclusion as traditional female
properties on one hand, and ruling and governing as some radical properties
in the modern thought. You can see that in the
Quranic depiction of women, gender cliches are very pallid. While spirituality and
properties related to wisdom are constituting almost all the
body of our imaginary woman, sex and gender cliches
have less than 5% share. So our integrated image of
the positive Quranic woman designates a faithful human
being in constant dialogue with the divine or with the other people, while she is thinking and acting in terms of empathy, care, and hope. Such frequency of properties directs us to a very important point. The narrator’s strategy in
developing female figures is de-gendering the characters. Gender is not a constitutive category in developing Quranic characters. Faith and wisdom instead
are the main categories. So we can infer that in
the Quranic narrative word, gender is not a crucial nor
even a supplementary category. In developing female characters,
our narrator’s strategy is to put the gender
cliches out of the text, then making female heroines on the basis of relational wisdom. Now we reach to the second level or the second question of our research, analyzing the explicit, implicit, and silenced contents of the stories to see if there are any
meaningful narrative indications in the story regarding gender and women. As you saw in Abraham and angels’ story, our narrator directed the story in a way that at the climax of the events, a veiled woman came out of the veils and became the heroine of the story. This is what we can
call an implicit content which can be inferred
from the whole story. We studied all women’s stories
from this point of view to discover the implicit and silenced content about gender and woman. Before explaining the results, I’d like to draw your attention to another very short story in the Quran, the story of Mary’s mother. Her name in some Christian
sources is Anne or Hannah, and she’s a very respected
figure in the Islamic sources. During all this story
she is speaking with God. That’s all the stories, she’s speaking with God, no other act. The story represents
her as a pregnant mother sitting in a private place, praying and asking God
that her child be a son. She tells God that she will
dedicate her child to God. Unbelievably, the tone of the words and drawling manner of
phrases in this fragment transmit her sense of
solicitude and suffering. It seems that she has escaped here from people’s offensive words. In the next act, after she
gives birth to the child she finds out that her child is a girl. She complains God for that. And suddenly the narrator, who has been absent from the story as a third-person narrator,
enters the narrative and vigorously states that
male does not match for female. Then Anne, still speaking with God, names her daughter
Maryam and prays for her and her offspring be secured from Satan. This time God accepts this request. I apologize, this fascinating story for this incomplete report. Due to the time limit, I can’t consider many absorbing
aspects of this story. However, I just mentioned
three important points about some explicit and implicit
contents of this narrative. The first point is that
mother’s solicitude and suffering situation, in addition to her complaint
about giving birth to a female, demonstrate a patriarchal
setting behind the story. So the narrative implicitly depicts a patriarchal and male-centered society as part of the narrative atmosphere. At the same time, the narrator implicitly condemns this society by
narrating the mother in suffering and segregating from that society. The second point is that in the first act, God of the story doesn’t accept mother’s request for
giving birth to a son. Then the narrator, not God of the story, at the climax of the story
interferes the narrative and explicitly announces its
position about the situation, saying that son does not match for girl. Our narrator is clearly angry
with the patriarchal society. The third point is that mother
names her daughter Maryam. This is the only female
proper name in the Quran. God accepts this naming,
and our narrator uses this name for Mary throughout the Quran. The narrator also puts the two requests of mother in contrast, demanding to give birth to a male child and commending the
female child from Satan. The first demand is not acceptable, while the second is accepted
with a gracious acceptance. Making this contrast, our
narrator again implicitly shows its anti-androcentric position. Every audience of this
narrative, we firmly claim that, can figure out how the
narrator has applied different strategies to
condemn androcentrism, and how it has declared its
position towards sexism. Nonetheless, almost all
readings of this story fail to get this obvious point. Almost all Muslim interpreters understood these verses conversely. They closed their eyes on all these explicit and implicit contents, even for interpreting
the obvious statement, male does not match for female, in favor of the androcentric views. They did their best to distort the syntactic structure
of the Arabic phrase and to conceal the obvious meaning of it. They didn’t let the loud voice
of the narrator be heard. They suppressed the voice of the narrator by developing clamors around the text. They covered the narrator
under a hefty veil of patriarchal literature
they produced around the text. In this way, they developed
an anti-hermeneutic exegesial tradition
which results in covering the main points of the text. In all the stories of these
eight positive female figures, our narrator depicts a kind
of androcentric setting behind the narrative
and criticizes this view by different narration tools. In most cases, you can detect
silence and implicit contents from parts of the story or all the story which challenge
androcentrism and patriarchy. In sum, much of the implicit and silenced contents of the narratives have serious implications
about gender settings. They are concealed in the stories to criticize and condemn
patriarchal, androcentric, suppressive, exclusive,
and self-centered views. Yes, you can ask why our
narrator has concealed these critical points
within the narratives. This is an important
question which leads us to the third and last
part of the research. I mean the narrator. When you consider a text as a narrative, you will find the footprints
of a narrator everywhere. All over the process of reading, this question comes to your mind. Who is the narrator? When you are discovering the
plot, the causal relation, when studying the characterization, when reconstructing the atmosphere, when uncovering the moral, the
implicit and silenced points, all over these activities you are in fact interacting with a narrator, a live, active, and intelligent agent reading the text who is
telling you the story, who is making different strategies to proceed the events
according to its own logic, and who is putting
forward a specific system of values in the story world. The question of narrator’s point of view and identity is an inseparable part of each and every narratological study. But without any doubt, this
is the most difficult part. We considered this
question at the last part of our survey in the Quranic narratives. However, it calls for a long lecture in order to completely explain. We should discuss the
differences between the author, the implied author, and the narrator. Then we are to examine the
qualities of strange narrators and the textual contract
between the narrator, the historical reader, the
implied reader, and the narratee. We suggested a consistent
model for the Quran’s narrator, which can be accounted for different and changing points of view in the text. I only mention that in
this model the narrator is not a male nor a female being. While the historical creator
or author of the text was a man, that is the Prophet Muhammad, and though the Quranic God as the source of the text
is supposed to be male, this narrator of the narrative cannot be regarded as male in any way. The Quran’s narrator as a textual identity has been invisible so far in
Islamic and Quranic studies. It is the source of all voices in the text who has disclosed women in its narrative while itself has been hidden
behind the words and silences. The Quran’s narrator, whoever it may be, is the director of a
magnificent performance who brings women as heroines on the stage, giving every one of them
a certain instrument to perform her own voice while all are singing towards the divine, and the divine is murmuring with them so that you cannot recognize which is the voice of the divine and which is of the heroines, because all voices are
the voice of the narrator. Thank you for listening to my voice. (audience applauding) – Do you want to take questions? Yes, yes. Zahra will take questions. Do you want to call on them or do you want me to call on them? – You can sit down. I will see everybody, thank you very much. – [Ann] Zahra will take questions. – Yes, Barbara. – I wanted to say thank you for that talk. It’s always the author, it
means a lot to me at the time. – Thank you. – And I was really struck by your chart, where you broke down
the different parts of, well, different qualities of the women. And then again, that love of God is the most frequent category. And you mentioned as you were
talking about that chart, that what you felt among other things that it showed us is a
de-gendering of women. And I was really struck by that. And I wondered if you, if I
could ask you to say more. Because I wonder, is it a de-gendering or is it a re-gendering? Because it’s a spectrum of
things on that chart, right? It moves from the really
traditional, as you said, the cliches of femininity,
housekeeper, et cetera. And then to the more things
of spiritual experiences. So in your view, are
those stories showing us these women to be thought of as somehow traditionally gendered or as gendered in a way
that we haven’t noticed? – Yeah, thank you for your attention. I think that your phrase fits
more to the situation, yeah. Very exactly you pointed to this point. Yes, because many of these
female characters are mothers, and mothering is strictly
a female activity. So I think that yes, you are right. Our narrator is not de-gendering. It is re-gendering and redefining a new meaning for being women. Yes, I think that would be more correct. Thank you for your points. Thank you very much. Yes? – [Audience Member] Thank
you very much for this interesting presentation.
– Thank you. – [Audience Member] First
I wanted to ask you, on which basis do you
consider God people and male? Because when you say huwa a lot, huwa, as I know, is a linguistic mark, for me a linguistic mark. It’s not the qualification
of God, of the sex of God, because God is a active concept, and it is neither male nor female. And this, if we read this linguistic mark, we’ll read it culturally,
definitely culturally, because it’s a revealant. We call it mostly a revealant in Arabic. And this is the culture in Arabic. In Arabic culture, in the
context of revelation, put emphasis on males, that’s why. This is my first question. My second question,
it’s about asking Quran or being interested in the
philosophy of Quran about women. I think it was very clear in
Quran that God was with women, with equality, no doubt about it. Because in that context of revelation, women, babies, they made babies, were embedded. When they are born, they embedded them in
(speaks foreign language). That’s why he said. (speaking foreign language) It’s definitely with the equality. This verse shows that Quran is with women. It’s a question that
is very clear in Quran, the equality, I mean. Third, I wanted to ask
you about the necessity, the necessity of having this objective to know through those stories, the point of view of the narrator, God, about the question of women. Because those stories are put in Quran as they happened in
the historical context. So the text is recording,
not the philosophy of God in this stories, but it is
recording rather what happened. So if we notice in those stories that inequality between both
sexes, it’s not from Quran, but it’s from the historical context, because it was happened like this. It’s not to show that God is against women or in favor of men. And you then notice that
if you do the same things you have done with the
stories of men in Quran, if you search in Quran,
the stories of men, what will be the result? So I think, I do think,
my PhD was on Quran, on conceptual structures in Quran. So I study it, the metaphorical projection
of balanced schema in Quran. And I discovered a huge
amount of words in Quran that can show without
doubt how much Quran, the philosophy of Quran,
not stories or the words, are connected in a way
that says that equality between sexes or between
cultures or between. The equality is the basis of this text, the basis of God thought
or religious thought in Quran, the equality. (speaking foreign language) And a huge amount of words
that definitely proves that. – Yes, quite, thank you. Thank you for your interesting questions. As to your first question
about the linguistic man, the linguistic problem of God,
which is presented as a male, I want to explain you a linguistic point. When in a gendered language like Arabic, God is represented as male
in the level of language, it has a result in the
picture of God in all. God does not remain as a textual and linguistic identity in the text. This male identity spreads
out in all the picture of God. So the God, not only in Arabic, but in English and other
gendered languages, is represented as a male
character, as a male identity. You know the linguistic
gender can represent the word if it is male-based, can
represent the word as a male word. So when God in the Quran is described in male adjectives and
male verbs and male nouns, then the God is imagined,
gets a picture of a male. And you can see the results
of this linguistic maleness, masculinity, in all
the Islamic literature. In all Islamic literature,
God is imagined as a male, and men are closer to God than women. You can say that in the Quran,
the male and female words are in equality, are spread in
the text in an equal manner, as one research has shown this point. I don’t know your name,
maybe this is your research. But a research by Dr. Reem
Hasan has shown this point, that the Quran has a very equality, shows an equality between
male and female nouns and adjectives and verbs. But God is represented as a male. And because of this, God has been understood as a male being. So as Mary Daly says, “So far as God is male, male is divine.” And this has been the situation
in this history of Islam. I’m sure that you are familiar
with the Islamic literature, and you know many, many different cases in the Islamic literature
that depict women as very far from divinity, and depict men as divine people. I don’t think that it’s needed that I bring you some examples. There are many, many examples of this. – [Audience Member] I
forgot to mention of gender. I’m sorry. But related to the text.
– Yeah. – [Audience Member] The
complication of gendering– – I think that the content of the text doesn’t show that God is a male. But there is no way, when a
language is a gendered language, who is using this language,
who is applying this language, has no way other than putting
God as a male or as a female. There is no other way. And in other gendered languages,
this is the case also. And because of this, there are some many linguistic studies to show that you can find a third
gender in the Arabic language, male, female, and a third gender that is not male or female,
or is both male or female. But these studies are still in process, and we cannot resist on their results. But I can introduce you some of them. They are very interesting. And about your second point
about the equality in the Quran, I definitely agree with you. And I’m very interested in
reading your research, of course. But about the point you said, about the historical figures in the Quran. This research seeks exactly
another point of view, a narratological point of view which doesn’t accept that these figure are historical figures. Conversely, we want to
regard these figures as textual figures, as they
are introduced in a narrative. We are not seeking for the histories, for what’s happened in
the history for them. We just want to see what the
text is saying about them. So I think that this question is not applicable to this research. – [Audience Member] Can we
discriminate between history and what the text is doing, and how it is going about Islam’s story? I think that the dissociation between– – Yes, of course there are. – [Ann] I think we’re going to let you two continue your conversation
at a later time, and see if there are other people who would like to raise a question. – [Audience Member] Okay,
I wanted to thank you very much for your talk, and thank you also for opening the issue that we’re following. I agree that this is something
we have to pursue elsewhere. So it would be useful
for me to know your name so that I can read more on the issue, because you have opened some
really important questions. But I wanted to say I was very charmed when you referred to the
text with a feminine pronoun, when you said the text opens her. And I just found it really
charming, linguistically. More telling, perhaps, than you intended. It’s a really welcome thing. Thank you so much.
– Thank you. – [Audience Member] And so could we have– – Would you like to introduce yourself? – Yes, of course. – [Audience Member] I’m Afaf Mordoue, a postdoc fellow at CMS. – Very good to see you.
– Thank you. – [Audiece Member ] I’m doing research related to the Quran and Bible, because I did it for Quran in my PhD, and now it’s three other texts in the Old Testament,
New Testament, and Quran. – Thank you.
– Thank you very much. – Other questions? – No questions? Thank you very much.
– Thank you very much. – Thank you.
(audience applauding) (gentle guitar music)

4 comments

  1. Too many people want Fluffy Islam: the Islam that doesn't challenge our values, supports our opinions, & fits perfectly into our worldview. Some Muslims accept Islam until they hear something they dislike. Then they reject scholars & speakers and say "that's not Islam." Rather than redefining their understanding of Islam, they want to redefine Islam itself. Their ego and arrogance blinds them.

    Their acceptance of Islam hinges on believing in only the most ambiguous parts – the parts they can misinterpret to fit their desires. If our reaction to hearing something we dislike is rejecting it rather than seeking knowledge/clarity, are we worshiping Allah or our egos?

    Have you seen he/she who has taken as his/her god his/her [own] desire, and Allah has sent him/her astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his/her hearing and his/her heart and put over his/her vision a veil? So who will guide him/her after Allah ? Then will you not be reminded? (45:23)

    Islam has very Rich Tradition. In Its 1400+ Years We Got Soo Many Female Scholars, More Than Any Other Faith Tradition. Those 1000 & 1000 female Scholars Also Read Quran. They Let It Read What Quran Says, They Didnt put their ideology on Quran. Let Quran Speak for Itself. Lecturer of This Video Forcing ideology Like Liberilism/Feminist etc On The Quran. She is trying hard to distort Quranic Narrative & Match it to her prefer Ideology. She is Driven by Western Ideology. lol. she is presenting a conspiracy theory, All male & female scholars for 1400+ yrs around the World hid the obvious meaning Of the Quran.

    I heard Lecturer Using Pronoun She For Referring To God. This Shows her Ideology.

    On the language note it's important to realize that in contrast to English, all semetic languages have 2 genders – masculine and feminine; there is no neutral or neuter gender. The default gender to use is masculine unless the thing in question is feminine in reality (is of the female gender) or the word is considered feminine in the language, and in the case of arabic grammar all non-human objects are feminine in the plural form even if the singular form is masculine. – Nobody in the ancient world or today as a speaker of Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic or otherwise would think that using the masculine pronoun for God implies he has a gender by use of the language itself; however if someone were to use a feminine pronoun it would

    In English using 'He' for God is also understood to not denote gender in the 'Abrahamic religions', except by proponents of anthropromorphism (if you believe Christ is God like in trinitarian christianity, then he is male under that belief ), or various polytheistic faiths that have dieties that are like the creation and seen as humanoids or animals. The only problem with using 'It' for God in English is that the pronoun is usually for non-intelligent beings like animals or plants, or for inanimate objects so it carries that connotation. Otherwise it's not a big deal really to use 'He' or 'It' if one's intended attribution to God is befitting to his uniqueness and perfection.

  2. Islam has very Rich Tradition. In Its 1400+ Years We Got Soo Many Female Scholars, More Than Any Other Faith Tradition. Those 1000 & 1000 female Scholars Also Read Quran. They Let It Read What Quran Says, They Didnt put their ideology on Quran. Let Quran Speak for Itself. Lecturer of This Video Forcing ideology Like Liberilism/Feminist etc On The Quran. She is trying hard to distort Quranic Narrative & Match it to her prefer Ideology. She is Driven by Western Ideology. lol. she is presenting a conspiracy theory, All male & female scholars for 1400+ yrs around the World hid the obvious meaning Of the Quran.

    I heard Lecturer Using Pronoun She For Referring To God. This Shows her Ideology.
    On the language note it's important to realize that in contrast to English, all semetic languages have 2 genders – masculine and feminine; there is no neutral or neuter gender. The default gender to use is masculine unless the thing in question is feminine in reality (is of the female gender) or the word is considered feminine in the language, and in the case of arabic grammar all non-human objects are feminine in the plural form even if the singular form is masculine. – Nobody in the ancient world or today as a speaker of Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic or otherwise would think that using the masculine pronoun for God implies he has a gender by use of the language itself; however if someone were to use a feminine pronoun it would

    In English using 'He' for God is also understood to not denote gender in the 'Abrahamic religions', except by proponents of anthropromorphism (if you believe Christ is God like in trinitarian christianity, then he is male under that belief ), or various polytheistic faiths that have dieties that are like the creation and seen as humanoids or animals. The only problem with using 'It' for God in English is that the pronoun is usually for non-intelligent beings like animals or plants, or for inanimate objects so it carries that connotation. Otherwise it's not a big deal really to use 'He' or 'It' if one's intended attribution to God is befitting to his uniqueness and perfection.

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