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When I was young, my father introduced me to Harold C. Goddard’s enlightened interpretation of Shakespeare.  I remember experiencing the instant conversion to his arguments, which felt so right, so consistent with the morality I aspired to – and yet, such a surprise, because he lands on conclusions that fly in the face of the interpretations held by the vast majority of commenters.  The first firecracker of a conclusion, for me, was that Kate was no shrew at all, but a justifiably cranky child (because of the favoritism shown her sister by her father), and that she ends up not tamed, but rather, in fact, holding the upper hand in her marriage (and at last properly, passionately, loved and understood).  The second breakthrough, for me, was Goddard’s argument that we are all wrong in assuming that Hamlet should have killed his uncle, or should have killed him earlier.  He should not have killed him; he should have forgiven him, and the best part of him knew it, and that he killed instead of forgiving was his downfall.  No audience, caught up in the group-think of revenge and hard justice, can see this clearly – but after the performance, as the play festers and worries the mind and heart, we might begin to suspect – and if we are lucky, and we read Goddard, it becomes clear at last, and we are elevated from our eye-for-an-eye existence to a higher plane of understanding where bloodshed is never the right answer.

So, how does this relate to Islam?

Islam has a long tradition of reform and discussion and challenge, but (as with all religions and their texts), there is a darker tradition, a habit of twisting the Islamic texts to one’s own ends.   (The key texts are the Qur’an, the word of God as reported by the Prophet Mohammad, and the Hadith, the record of the life of the Prophet as remembered by his companions and passed down by word of mouth.)  In the immediate aftermath of the death of the Prophet Muhammad, his community endeavored to be inclusive and govern by consensus.   In the next couple of centuries, human understanding of the shari’ah, the divinely ordained path of conduct that guides human behavior, was recognized as being open to a variety of interpretations.  But, over time, a school of scholars would agree on an element of interpretation, and this very agreement would freeze the consensus opinion, which then came down to subsequent generations to be accepted without question.  Yet interpretations were thoroughly influenced by the culture and context of the time.  In a culture where women were oppressed, for example, the interpretations tended to treat women as second-class, as possessable, as less capable than men, even without any support for that bias existing in the Qur’an.  

For me, as an outsider curious about Islam, a number of aspects presented insurmountable problems when I first encountered it.  One of these was the apparent elevation of men above women, justified with reference to the Qur’an and the Hadith, and to older Abrahamic traditions.  What a delight, then, what a relief and a recognition, to discover the arguments of the Islamic feminist Riffat Hassan, who endeavors to throw off the weight of centuries of scholars and accepted “wisdom”, and argues eloquently and compellingly, addressing every problematic verse, that the Qur’an clearly advocates perfect equality of men and women.  And then to trace back that theme of fair treatment and enlightened interpretation to the Aga Khan and Muhammad Iqbal and further back, right back to the Prophet himself, his relationship with his intelligent and supportive wives, and his advocacy for disadvantaged women.

I love that experience, of being shown an unexpected path, an intellectual solution, that explains a familiar text -- but in a new way, that contradicts nearly every previous commenter and elevates the interpretation to a higher moral level.  Don’t you?

Recommended readings:

  • Riffat Hassan (b. 1943), “Muslim Women and Post-Patriarchal Islam,” in the collection After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions
  • Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”  Kitab Bhavan, 2000 (originally published in 1930)
  • Harold C. Goddard (1878-1950), “The Meaning of Shakespeare,” The University of Chicago Press
  • John Esposito (b. 1940), “Islam, The Straight Path,” Oxford University Press

Originally posted to bidwbb on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 08:29 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •   why? (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koseighty, Farugia, exterris, bluedust, eve, Anak

       here's an alternate take.... Islam, Christianity and Judaism  and other organized religions are imperfect systems of
    belief which coerce and oppress billions of believers....

        why try to understand or justify the supposed perfect word of god revealed to imperfect mortals?...

        why not reject these ideologies of coercion and think for yourself..... why do women insist on trying to reform the oppressive patriarchies which have enslaved them for centuries?

  •  Psychology of religion is like a box of chocolates (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pete Dunkelberg, eve

    You never really know what flavor you are going to get.  

    Further, you never really know why at this time of human evolution what compels humanity to look to the divine to rationalize and characterize their existence.

    God could exist or perhaps not but it does not explain the pathological need to believe in something sentient greater than the force of all further knowledge in the universe.

    •  It's explained by simple biology. (0+ / 0-)

      Group selection.

      A tribe that carries the religion gene is more easily organized and controlled. In war, they fight fanatically, believing themselves to be immortal, and their cause to be holy.

      So, when they need more land, they easily exterminate or subjugate neighboring tribes, take their land, and breed.

      GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

      by gzodik on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 08:28:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i once saw taming staged (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    native, eve, niemann

    as a sort of dominant/submissive love game. they both knew it was bullshit, but it turned them on. i also once saw winter's tale staged with the first half in the uptight 1950s and the second half in the flower child 1960s.

    i don't have much to say about religion except that i think they're all mostly pointing at the same thing, from different cultural contexts, and everyone gets caught up in the pointing rather than that pointed at. in every religion there are crazed dogmatists, and in every religion there are those who transcend the specifics and get back to the universals. and that includes the religions of atheism, agnosticism, and materialism.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 09:53:36 PM PST

    •  Atheism is not a religion (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      penguins4peace, astro

      The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason: The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle.

      Benjamin Franklin, The Incompatibility of Faith and Reason, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1758)

      •  "There is no God" is still a belief based on faith (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "There is no God that I have seen" is not.

        Atheism is a philosophy that can veer over into religion. When atheists start to declare dogmatically instead of questioning with an open mind, they begin to share the mindset of blind faith and belief that we use to define religion. Human nature being what it is, I believe that we will always have "true believers" who make a religion out of damn near anything.

        Less "WAAAAH!", more progress.

        by IndyGlenn on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 06:31:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Disagree (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Your statement
          "There is no God" is still a belief based on faith

          is empirically false. Well, it may be true for someone somewhere, but for the vast majority of those who agree with the first part, it is a conclusion based on evidence, not a belief based on faith. People don't start out with faith that there are no gods, it is concluded after considering relevant factors.

          In modern science and philosophy, knowledge claims are not claims of the absolute certainty of philosophy 101, nor are all reasoned conclusions counted as knowledge, not at all. Let's not resort to easily to the word "faith." Let's give credit to reasoned conclusions as such.

          "There is no God that I have seen" is much too weak and is not by itself the reason for the conclusion. There is no China that I have seen. There are no electrons that I have seen. But there are expected types of confirming evidence.

          "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" is not a good maxim. Absence of evidence is the chief if not the only kind of evidence of absence there is. What is your evidence that there is not a tiger in the room?

      •  reason (0+ / 0-)

        also is a religion. don't confuse the map for the mountain.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 07:18:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I love this part. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      everyone gets caught up in the pointing rather than that pointed at
      You nail it in twelve concise words.

      In fact, it reminded me of a (very) short Hans Christian Andersen-type story I once wrote -- telling how when our dog was a puppy she was so dumb that when we pointed to her toys, she didn't know to look at what we were pointing at, but stared at our hands instead.

      When Jesus came to point to God, his followers stare at Jesus instead.

      The point was, our puppy was more intelligent and eventually outgrew it and learned to focus on what we were pointing at.

  •  Same thing happened with the Bible (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew F Cockburn, bluedust

    The first Christians ere inclusive; only later (after wide acceptance) did they become arrogant and exclusive:  much like people.

    Old Hippies Never Give Up!

    by ravenrdr on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 11:37:35 PM PST

  •  The men who use the Koran to justify oppressing (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gzodik, Jim P, niemann, DRo, FG, DeepLooker

    women are the same sort who use the Bible to justify oppressing the poor.

    It doesn't take any sort of theological sophistication. Read what they actually said and it is clear that both Jesus and Mohammed were feminists and socialists for their time. The layers of interpretation that have grown up over the millenia are designed to hide the simple truth about what they said.

    •  Clear to us - but in a different context? (4+ / 0-)

      It's easy to see this, perhaps, from our perspective.  

      But I'm interested in how Muslims, and especially Muslim women, many of whom are illiterate and living in a very different informational context than us, can get to a place where they can even "read what they actually said", and feel that it's OK to question and think for oneself.  Same question for women in other religions, where their particular brand tells them that they have limitations that men do not.  How does religious literacy happen for those women?

      I think working from inside the system becomes important to effect this kind of change.

  •  Working within the system (6+ / 0-)

    The comments I've received (thank you!) about how religion is (obviously) perverted over time, with the implication that it should be simply abandoned in its current form, got me thinking about the analogy between religion and the Democratic politics that we're all officially here for, at DailyKos.  We're choosing to work within the system here, to get out the vote for Democrats.  Yet there are plenty of us who are unhappy with the system.  For example: I got all excited about passing health reform, when, a decade ago, I'd have seen the same law as an evil Republican alternative to single payer or whatever.  Or, we're still off killing people in other countries with drones, and imprisoning people who should be out living their lives and supporting their families, etc. etc.  Our system sucks in so many ways, but we've chosen to work from inside, and arguably, that's also going to be a valid way to effect change in societies where inequities are supported by religious practice.  

  •  Tips (5+ / 0-)

    for doing more than giving lip service to 'respecting Muslims'.

  •  All of the texts from the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gzodik, Anak, gauchegnomic

    Abrahamic traditions, the torah, the bible and the koran are mythologies woven from the attitudes and imaginations of those cultures at that time, from pagan stories that were borrowed, and from manipulations of those using religion for the purposes of power and greed.

    We need to stop taking these texts as anything more than this.  They are not guides to morality, as both retrogressive fundamentalism and tempered progressivism are both in all of them, making them unreliable as a guide to the modern world.

    Basically mankind has recognized women's rights through the vehicles of the non-religious texts of the Constitution and the humanistic recognition of the morality of a culture which allows and supports these freedoms. It was the thinking outside of the box of religion and religious texts that broke open the freedom of women's rights. Just ask Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    I'm tired of religious people using these old mythologies to back up humanistic arguements because these texts also argue for regression and withholding of rights. This will never be resolved and certainly the regressives in all three religions will never buy the view that Riffat Hassan has pulled out of the texts and out of the fables surrounding the life of "the Prophet".

    •  I disagree with part of this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      They are not guides to morality
      Oh yes they are, every bit as much as a code of law.

      Of course, morality based on religious beliefs shouldn't have the civil sanction of civil law, IMO.

      •  A good guide to morality (0+ / 0-)

        does not conflict with itself.  That's why we have fundamentalist Christianity(Judaism, Islam) vs. liberal Christianity(Judaism, Islam).  Each side can use the texts to back its view.   The texts as taken in total, unless you are going to try to argue that some parts are divinely inspired and some not (which begs the eternal question of which is which), are not moral in their overall themes.  The Old Testament is a story of a deity who favors one small sect of all of humanity to the point of allowing and endorsing and even leading it to eliminate other parts of humanity.  The New Testament (supposedly the same god with a new twist on things) is about the concept of salvation, which in and of itself is a divisive and immoral cosmic system.

        •  I didn't say that (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DeepLooker, SchuyH

          the sacred texts of monotheistic religions were good or bad guides to morality.

          I simply said that they were guides.

          And if you think that those conflicted morals reside merely in the texts of Abrahamic religions, then you you might want to check out some of the Eastern religions, starting with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

          •  I'm sure the same holds for the texts (0+ / 0-)

            you have mentioned, however, I have not read them.

            The overall problem with the guides that we are talking about is that the world gives them too much weight. We are currently arguing about giving marriage rights to gays and lesbians only because so much of the country gives weight to the biblical texts that prohibit homosexuality in terms of not being "approved" by a deity.  In the meantime, people suffer.  This is the real time effect of these "guides".

            They need to be shelved next to the Roman and Greek mythologies.

            •  I think possibly what you're saying (0+ / 0-)

              is that they aren't good guides to morality.

              That's not the same thing as saying they aren't guides to morality, which they manifestly are.

              •  I could agree with that from (0+ / 0-)

                the historical view I am able to take, but it's more like they are confusing guides to morality, and certainly irrelevant to the modern world's problems simply because they are so old and sourced from a particular culture at a particular time.

                •  While I personally disagree (0+ / 0-)

                  with that assessment, I find it a much more reasonable one.  Carry on.  :)

                  I've actually gotten in this argument in reverse, defending atheism to my coreligionists who assert that without religion people can't possibly have any sort of moral code.  To which I say "Piffle."

                  •  "Piffle" indeed! (0+ / 0-)

                    I wonder how much history these coreligionists have read?!!

                    Besides, most of the gods mankind has concocted are quite immoral.  I find the cosmic system of "salvation" particularly distasteful.

                    •  So do I (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Chitown Kev, SchuyH

                      but remember, just because it's counter to your own moral code doesn't mean it isn't strictly adherent to a moral code of its own.

                      •  OK, if you say so... (0+ / 0-)

                        I don't see how a divisive and exclusionary system has a moral code of it's own, but I won't argue it with you.

                        It took me a long time to finally even recognize the immorality in the biblical texts which I do believe is a symptom of the mass hypnosis produced by telling these tales to children in a way that infers morality.  For example, why didn't I see the immorality in the Passover story as a teenage Lutheran confirmand? Why didn't I question the story of the sacrifice of Issac? Or the actions of "God" in the flood story?   It took me years as an adult to recognize it.  I would love to understand how that happened.  When I finally figured it all out, it was like Neo in the Matrix waking up in the pod and figuring out that he was hooked up to a dream world.

                        It is the continued power of these texts and their influence on the world that alarms me. So I use any chance I get to nudge people to take another look at them.

  •  Fact is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gzodik, DeepLooker

    Arab women before Islam were freer than after Islam.  The Prophet's first, pre-Islamic, wife, was a businesswoman, she hired the young Muhammad, and she proposed marriage to him.  Arab women were poets, participated in political decisions, and fought on the battlefield.  All that went by the wayside post-Islamic revelations.  Some trying to reinterpret Islam to make for more freedom is a pragmatic approach, given the number of Muslims, but is promoting a myth nonetheless.

  •  Changes Within Islam (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bidwbb, TheDuckManCometh

    As an author writing a book on the relationship between religion and science, I found it important to interview an Imam from the nearby Mosque.  I found him intelligent, perceptive and widely read.  The view he gave me into Islam was revealing, in particular into the ongoing process of adaptation to life in the U.S.  Responding to internal forces, several aspects of this faith seem to be undergoing reappraisal.

    The traditional conflict between Sunni and Shi'a has reduced to near zero, as members of these two sects are worshipping together and even intermarrying.

    Although women still wear the traditional garb inside the mosque, they seemed to have numerous positions of authority.  All the teachers I saw were women.

    Questions of the shari'ah are under discussion.  Is it necessary for a Muslim to leave the presence of a person consuming alcohol, or not?  (such as a Christian friend having a beer for lunch)  Should a Muslim pay the interest on his credit card if, through no fault of his own, he carries a balance from one month to the next?  (The Qur'an forbids paying or receiving interest on loans.)

    What I saw was a faith reevaluating itself to fit better into its current environment.  It will necessarily be a slow and careful process, but one which may prove to be highly productive.  In time, as all other immigrant groups, they may have something beneficial to contribute to the rest of us.

    Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

    by T C Gibian on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 09:08:52 AM PST

  •  Christianity and Islam (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chitown Kev, Anak

    are desert religions, like the Judaism, from which they get their foundation. Desert religions are usually harsh in their prescriptions for human behavior and reasons for being. Add to that, a desert religion created by a group of people whose people had been in the stranglehold of slavery for generations, it's not wonder that they determined "flesh/world = evil, spirit/spiritworld = holy.

    It's interesting to note the difference between desert religions and forest religions.

  •  Ya know.. (4+ / 0-)

    as much as a few of the commenters here deride religion...all religions... in favor of reason and the scientific method unencumbered by mythological beliefs...

    as a black person in western society, I have to say that such commenters shouldn't be so haughty.

    After all, as "irrational" as racism is, I can't afford to forget that scientific study and reason played a great role in the justification of slavery and it continues to play a role in the continuing racism of society.

  •  I appreciate the thought process (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    you are displaying in this diary. I wish the comments had more discussion about that (i.e. people sharing about new ways of thinking and things that made them think differently about something)  instead of the tired back and forth about the legitimacy and usefulness (or lack thereof) of religion. Because even though religion is used as an example in this diary, I don't think religion itself is the main point. I think the main point is about what one might call "religious" thinking (group think). And that's a much more interesting discussion.

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On".

    by Oaktown Girl on Sun Dec 09, 2012 at 07:14:42 PM PST

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