In her work “Early Islam and the Position of Women: The Problem of Interpretation”, Leila Ahmed raised the question of the religious basis for the institution of patriarchal marriage in Islamic societies. By discussing the process of formation of Islamic laws, the author differentiated between the spiritual messages of Orthodox Islam and their legal implications. Ahmed explored various views on the standards of conduct prescribed by the Islamic ethic and pointed out at the problem of misinterpretation of the main messages of the sacred writings.
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Overview of the differences in positions of women in different Islamic societies leads to a conclusion that the law schools interpreted the sacred laws in different ways. Therefore, the legal articulation of the ethical norms prescribed by Quran is biased and can be under the influence of individual misinterpretation.
The main claim made by the author is expressed in the paragraph discussing the necessity of agreement between different law schools with only insignificant differences in their articulation of ethical norms. However, the author pointed out at the differences in the position of women as the main counterargument to this claim. “Some of these ‘insignificant’ differences in interpretation, however, result in laws profoundly different in their consequences for women” (Ahmed 61).
The paragraph that is cited above makes a critical point to the discussion of the assigned readings, because it addresses the issue of legal articulation of the ethical norms as the main underlying cause of differences in ethical norms of different societies and corresponding position of women. Women’s rights in Islamic societies are used as the main example, illustrating the legal implications of ethical norms and spiritual values of Quran.
By acknowledging the impact of human institution of law schools and scholars as the main actors, having impact upon the current state of affairs and people’s destinies, the author offers valuable insights into the underlying processes, taking place simultaneously with the formation of legal norms in their relation to ethical and religious messages of classical Islam. Instead of discussing the position of women and answering the question of whether it is fair or not, Ahmed viewed the realities of male dominance in Islamic societies in broader context of religious and legal studies.
The author’s main claim focused on misinterpretation of the standards of conduct and society’s norms prescribed by Islam. Importantly, Ahmed looked beyond the traditional views on cultural and religious traditions and turned to Quran as the primary source, which should have defined the beliefs and lifestyles of Islam societies, but was misinterpreted by different law schools, leading to the wide gaps not only between traditions and women’s rights in different societies, but also the gaps between the religious and legal understanding and articulation of the core values. The chosen paragraph is built on contrast between the idealized Islamic societies sharing similar views on the ethical norms and the real state of affairs, particularly the differences in position of women in different communities.
The aspects of polygyny and women’s right to divorce are discussed as only a few examples, demonstrating the possibilities of different interpretations of the same phenomenon, depending upon the perspective chosen by the law scholars. The consideration of the historical processes and the main influential factors, affecting the articulation of religious norms into society’s practices, was an important contribution made by Ahmed.
Ahmed, Leila. “Early Islam and the Position of Women: The Problem of Interpretation.” Women in Middle Eastern History. Ed. Nikki Kedie. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. 58 – 71. Print.