Muslim Masculinity: Spirituality and Religious Authority (Part 1)

Left to right: Shaykh Yahya Rhodus, Imam Jihad Saafir, Imam Sohaib Sultan (moderator), Professor Atiya Aftab, Ustada Tammy Elmansoury.

On Saturday, November 14, 2015, altMuslimah (“altM”) and the Princeton Muslim Life Program co-hosted the symposium, Muslim Masculinity in an Age of Feminism. altM is dedicated to broadening the impact of the conversation. The Twitter highlights are recapped here. Below is part one of the video recording (linked) and transcript of the first panel, Spirituality and Religious Authority. Part two is located here.

Click the image to access the video of Panel 1.

Click the image to access the video of Panel 1.

Imam Sohaib: Today’s first panel discussion is going to focus on the religious discourse, the religious institution building, spirituality, religious identity, and how it relates to masculinity in the Muslim community.

Oftentimes, when Muslims, and others of other faiths, read the Qur’an, especially in translation, they will constantly come across God as being referred to as “He.” Oftentimes, there are passages in the Qur’an that are very male-driven, or they might seem to be addressing men in particular, and maybe even sometimes, to the exclusion of women. I want to ask, in a provocative way, without wanting to be disrespectful, but I think this is an important conversation, many people have asked me this. Is God a man, and does God prefer men over women? How do we understand this question?

Shaykh Yahya: In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate.

The theological understanding of God is at the very heart of this discussion for a Muslim. The idea of the safe space is very important. Oftentimes, when we come together to have conversations, people hold back. They don’t feel comfortable enough to really share how they view the world. I think that we’re all in agreement that there are multiple ways of seeing the world, and, if you will, that there are multiple ways of perceiving the same truth.

Based upon that principle, I think it’s very important that we’re honest, one with another. If we’re not, that we’re not going to really get down to the heart and essence of the discussion without that honesty.

Quite simply, God has no gender, according to the understanding of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When you say هو [huwa], which is the Arabic word for “he,” it is a non-gender-specific noun. God is not male, nor is He female. God has no gender.

Because the Arabic language does not have a gender-neutral pronoun, what winds up happening is that there are some words that actually use هي [hiwa], which is for female, like أرض [ardh], which is earth, becomes هي. For other things, Arabic uses the word هو, which is for he. Quite clearly, there is no gender in relation to God, and what we understand from that is the principle [of the] uniqueness and the solitariness of God. He has no pair. We don’t even say that he has an opposite. Everything in creation … there is a dyad-like relationship where there are opposites, there are pairs. When it comes to God, He is entirely and absolutely unique.

When you say هو, it is nothing other than a marker that points to the divine essence and speaking of God as creator.

This is very important because, and I’m glad we began this way because it will help frame some of the individual comments that we have, is that one of the very important things to understand, which oftentimes, I will eventually try to put forth the argument that this is part of the reason that we have many of these problems, that they’re exacerbated in our communities, is that we don’t frame our discussions of things like gender based upon sound, theological, and if you will, I would even argue for our time, metaphysical understandings.

What I mean by that is that in order to truly understand the fabric of reality, the true nature of creation for a Muslim, that you have to understand something about both the majestic and the beautiful names of God. Everything, in a sense, that is either a manifestation of a beautiful name of God, or a majestic name of God. If we are going to say, archetypally speaking, and what we mean by that is, that not absolutely, because only God is absolute. Everything that is in that realm of creation, according to most belief, is various degrees of being relative.

Archetypally speaking, the majestic attributes of God are gendered as male, and the beautiful attributes of God are gendered as female.

You could refer to things as being gendered in creation, such as the rain, in relation to the earth. However, this is archetypally speaking. Everything is believed that, in the realm of relativity, to have a passive-active relationship.

The greatest archetype, that is, is what Muslims refer to the pen. This is not the pen as we write with, this is [] the pen of power. The way that the divine decrees are written in what is known as [] the tablet. The pen is passive, in relation to God, active in relation to the tablet. The tablet is passive in relation to the pen, active in relation to the way that that divine decree appears in creation. What you will find [in] the various degrees and dimensions of existence, is that every dimension has a passive-active-like relationship with the dimension that’s considered to be higher, not in a spatial sense, but compared to what is considered to be lower. This passive-active relationship is really key for us to understand gender because, again, this is archetypally speaking, everything is God’s creation will have a passive-active-like nature to it.

If you look at The Father, for instance, The Father is active in relation to his own children, but he is passive in relation to his parents. Again, I’m going to keep saying this, that’s archetypally speaking, but I think this is a helpful breakdown for us to see it as such. When we speak about God, there is no gender. At the realm of the name and the attributes of God, you could archetypally say that there are some attributes that are more male-like in that sense, and there are other attributes that are more female-like in that sense.

This is a very key concept in that it will play out in great detail when it comes to law.

If we understand [this] then, we also understand in a teleological sense that the creation of the human being, and what is the whole purpose? What is the end result of what it is that we’re here for? From this standpoint, if we approach gender and relationships on this basis, at the realm of the archetypes, and then the realm of teleology that is, is that what is the purpose of why we’re here, and what is the end result of everything what we do here in the world? From here, we can start to scratch the surface of understanding what masculinity is and how it relates to some of the questions that people have in the legal dimension of why are these rules for men, and these rules are for women? Why is there a disparity between them? Why is God apparently speaking directly to males here, but is it excluding the female? Or, is it including the female?

If we approach it from this, I think it gives us a very nice framework that we can understand that it’s not as simple as people might think it to be, then to just write it off as being misogynistic. I think that this is very important. The last thing that I will say on this, and hopefully provoke more conversation, is that there are certain verses in the Qur’an that refer to رجال (men), “For amongst the believers are men,” that they have been truthful to the covenant that they’ve taken with God. This is an example of what Imam Sohaib had in mind. Does this verse exclude women? It also, again, we have to root this back into the nature of the Qur’an and the nature of interpretation of the Qur’an. There are many verses in the Qur’an that have what is known as an occasion of revelation, a means of revelation.

The means of this revelation was that there was actually a number of men who had made a covenant with the Prophet, that they would fight with him in battle. The verses specifically referring to these men that had made that pledge, but by extension, that if we apply the principles of Islamic legal theory, that just because it’s specifically referring to men does not mean that it’s excluding women. If there is extrinsic proof that is actually referring to all genders, then it would also apply to them specifically, but then there would be a general application as well, which indeed, in this verse, it is the case. Once we understand what I previously mentioned, that men and women are the same in that regard, is that for everyone, it’s all about that trait of being truthful, in relation to a holy and divine covenant, both for men and women.

Finally, the last nuance, which I think is really important to recognize in this regard, is that when we understand the human being itself, and this is why you really have to unpack [this topic]. What is feminism? What is masculinity? Feminism is not monolith. What if you qualify that masculinity would be Muslim, what does that mean? What is gender? When we talk about human beings, outwardly-speaking, yes, we have male and we have female. We also have hermaphrodites.

Even beyond all of that, how does the spirit, from a religious perspective, relate to gender? If we get beyond what we normally take, in a secular sense, as markers of our identity, to a religious realm of the spirit. The spirit transcends gender, and at this level, it’s beyond male or female.

The spirit is really, this is the quest that is informed how we get here in this world, which relates to that pre-earthly realm of all spirits being the presence of God. Even though we believe in that physical bliss in the natural world as well, but ultimately, the greatest pleasure of all is the pleasure of the spirit. It really nuances the conversation gives us plenty to really look at engage, hopefully, meaningfully.

Imam Sohaib: Thank you. I think that provides us an opportunity to really dig deeper as the conversation goes on. Imam Jihad, in preparation for this conversation, I was looking up the term masculinity in the dictionary. The definition that came up seemed not to be remarkable in any way. It said, “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men.” Then, right underneath that, it gave some examples. It said, “handsome, muscle, driven.” …They had some synonyms for the term masculinity. It came up as “machoism, vigor, strength, ruggedness.” This is in the dictionary.

Then, I came across a survey that was done by Huffington Post which surveyed 5,000 men in a particular younger age demographic. They asked a question: “When you think of masculinity, what are some of the terms that come up for you?” These are the five terms that came up the most commonly in the survey: dominance, power, strong, alpha, control. I want to ask you that if we think of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as being a role model for humanity and as being the master of men, are these qualities that you would associate with him? Or, when you think about the Prophet, peace be upon him, are there qualities very different from these that you think are [associated with him]?

Imam Jihad: It’s important for us to first of all establish that masculinity, it changes, it transitions in regards to the definition.

I think the issue that we will have in this day and time is really translating a healthy formation of masculinity that is viable for this particular day and time.

When I think about the masculinity of the Prophet [peace be upon him], things that come to mind, the narrative when the bedoin were surprised to see the Prophet [peace be upon him] that he kissed the boys. He kissed his grandsons. The Prophet [peace be upon him], his response: whoever doesn’t treat with mercy will not be treated with mercy. To translate this to this particular day and time, when it’s really taboo, especially in my culture, to talk about kissing boys.

To even talk about this, we would have to have a conference, perhaps, to make a paradigm shift in my culture. In my particular culture, kissing the boys, is considered making the boys feminine. To kiss the boys, you’ll end up in prison, for the most part. People will put you in prison first. Really, translating this, to my culture, and say that, “Teaching my son how to interact with the opposite gender, how to be a gentleman, having affection instead of just teaching my son martial arts and to be tough.” I think this mistake has been made that we translate this machoism where we can no longer hug our sons, show affection to our sons.

I think the Prophet [peace be upon him], in his example, is teaching me that yes, I can hug my son. I can tell my son that I love him, and I can have affection.

I can have affection and hug the boys in the community without being placed in this box as being attracted to little boys. I think this is an important example.

Another example that stands out is when the Prophet [peace be upon him], his son was passing away, and he began to cry. Abdur Rahman ibn Awf mentions he was surprised to see him crying and show such emotion. The Prophet [peace be upon him], he mentions: this is mercy. I think this is important that men, in this day and time, and I’m speaking from the standpoint of being an imam, an imam in south Los Angeles, I need a space in which I can present some of my emotions. A space where I don’t have to always fit into this box of what it means to be a man, being all macho and everything else. I need that space where sometimes, I want to cry from what I’m going through. Sometimes, I want to present some emotions that will be healthy for my masculinity.

The Prophet [peace be upon him], when I think about his masculinity, I think about Aisha, who she describes the Prophet [peace be upon him] [as such]: His wife drunk water from a cup, and in grabbing the cup, he deliberately found the place, the location in which she drunk, and he drunk from that same location. That’s the masculinity that I see portrayed by the Prophet [peace be upon him], which, in turn, it teaches me how to be romantic in my relationship.

I’m not afraid to admit I’m a product of Snoop Dogg, 2Short, NWA and all these other names. I had to transition from being a product of that into a Muslim masculinity, which was a difficult transition.

Being a product of these things, you can’t just throw them away immediately. Year one of marriage, it went okay. Year two, I got better. Year three, got better, and got better, and got better to the point now where I’m able to translate these things that the Prophet [peace be upon him] did in his life, and make this transition into a healthy masculinity.

When I think about the example of the Prophet [peace be upon him], first of all, it’s rescuing this interpretation from systems of oppression, from oppressive interpretations, and bringing it into a more practical means of masculinity. One that’s viable for our day and time. I learned how to be a man from the example of the Prophet [peace be upon him], a man who strives to serve the community. A man who strives to be a good husband, without being dominant over my wife. Learning how to be a good father, showing emotions, being able to develop platforms in which other men can gather and show emotions without always having to enact this machoism. The best example that we have is the Prophet [peace be upon him] as our job to really rescue the interpretation from the systems of oppression.

Imam Sohaib: Thank you so much. Ustada Tammy, I wanted to follow up on this by asking you what are some of the ways in which, from your study of hadith, that the Prophet [peace be upon him] challenged notions of masculinity in his time? Also, the scholars who came after, some of the classical scholars who came after, how did they challenge some of the notions of masculinity during their time?

Ustada Tammy: As-salam alaikum. Thank you to Imam Sohaib, and also to Asma for putting together this important conversation. I want to echo a few things that Imam Jihad said, just to encourage us all to root our conversation today in connecting young men and women to knowledge of Allah and the Prophet [peace be upon him], in all matters. As you can see from what we’ve discussed so far, the urgency of connecting them to that knowledge, because of the crises we are experiencing in this subject.

When we talk about masculinity, or any discussions in gender, we try to emphasize spiritual maturity over physical maturity. This is the ultimate goal. The Prophet [peace be upon him], our example, was a man of balance. The best of the best. Some of the highlights that Imam Jihad mentioned are just the beginning point, the tip of the iceberg in describing the many facets to his being, his self, his life.

So many different examples that I could give you, we could be here all day talking about them. Just wanted to mention a couple more, just for reflection. When I think about his balance, when I think about his perfection, I think about the day he received word of the death of Zayd was killed at the Battle of Mut’ah. Zayd, as you know, he was loved by the Prophet [peace be upon him], he was like his son. He used to call him Zayd Habib, the beloved one. When Zayd died … the Prophet [peace be upon him], he didn’t just cry, the word is like he sobbed … The Prophet, he said, [this] is the yearning of the lover for the beloved.

In these moments, we see that Prophet [peace be upon him], he is not ashamed, or feel it is beneath him, to express emotions, to express weakness.

We know from the very first minutes of revelation, the Prophet [peace be upon him], he depended on the comfort of his wife, Khadijah. “Wrap me, comfort me. Give me that.” This is something that we should be [teaching our men] not when they are our husbands, but when they are sons. This is something that starts early. We get this example if we look at the tradition, the beautiful tradition of our classical scholars. All through the generations, we see this continue. Mothers, they play an instrumental role in shaping the spiritual maturity of their sons. We see this time and time again.

Even before we get to that, we can look at even the Prophet [peace be upon him], he was the best teacher. We look at those he taught, look at the companions and see what kinds of lessons we get from that. Examples like Asma bint Abi Bakr when her son was going to face martyrdom, face his death, and she found him wearing armor. She said, “What is this?” This is his mother.

Through the generations of classical scholars, we have other examples. Bayazid Bastami, the ninth century important scholar. His mother, he came to her when he was becoming mature in his life. He said, “Mother, I’ve become a man.” She says, “Have you seen the Prophet?” He was talking more about how he had reached puberty, reached maturity. [She told him to go and come back once he had seen the Prophet.] He went off and spent time in prayer and reflection, and he returned to her when he had seen the Prophet [peace be upon him] in a dream. She said, “Was it in a dream, or was it when you were awake?” Even that, for her, was not sufficient. He was still on a quest, his spiritual quest was not complete. When he was dying, he was asked about his age. He was 74. He said, “I am only four years old.” He said it was because it took him 70 years to lift all of the spiritual veils from his life. I just want to encourage that as a reflection in our discussions of gender and what it means to be a man.

Imam Sohaib: We talk about the Prophet, peace be upon him, and how he conceived of masculinity. There’s so much to talk about. One example that I think of often is when, in this famous hadith, in this famous tradition where the Prophet turned to his male companions and said, “Who amongst you is the strongest?” They replied, “Oh, Messenger of God, it’s the one who can wrestle the other one down in competitive match.” He said, “No. The strongest amongst you is the one who is able to refrain themselves, even when they’re angry.” Really challenging what masculinity is all about. That it’s not about the physical strength, but it’s about the spiritual and emotional strength, being able to hold oneself back during times of anger.

When you look at the tradition, the intimate portraits of the Prophet, peace be upon him, there’s an entire chapter about the modesty of the Prophet, peace be upon him.

Oftentimes, we think of modesty as something for women. In reality, modesty is just as important for men.

One of the descriptions that just completely blows my mind, is that the Prophet, peace be upon him, was more modest than a virgin woman in her tent. Thing about that, seventh century Arabia. Think about that image, and think about the fact that when people were saying this about the Prophet [peace be upon him], they were praising him. Nowadays, who amongst us would want to be described in that way? If somebody were to praise me, “Sohaib, you’re such a nice guy. He’s like a virgin woman in his tent.” I’d be like, “Excuse me, what’d you say?” Seriously. No longer do we understand these things as compliments. To understand that people are saying this in praise of the Prophet, peace be upon him…

Professor Atiya, I wanted to ask you that when you think about the Prophet, peace be upon him, and you think about the Prophetic community, did the Prophet insist that men and women should be of one type? Or, did he have the capacity to embrace different types of femininities and different types of masculinities in his midst?

Professor Atiya AftabProfessor Atiya: As-salaam alaikum everybody.

I can’t begin without really acknowledging the crisis of the Islamic civilization right now. If any of you have any connection with the news, you know what I’m talking about specifically. If masculinity is defined by dominance, power, strong, alpha, control, the Muslim civilization, from many levels, is in a disastrous state. I feel that we have accepted violence as a standard in our culture, and that has to go with masculinity, unfortunately … I just want to acknowledge that because we are in a state of crisis.

There is a distinction between my role as a woman, my role as a mom, as a daughter, as a wife. I think we’ve really merged these concepts. When I’m in a public space, I’m a human being; I’m a woman, but I’m a human being. Versus when I’m in my home, I have a different role. We almost merge all of this, and I think we’ll talk about that a little bit later one. I can’t help but state that from the beginning.

We understand that, as Shaykh Yahya said, Allah is not male or female. We also understand, as [Imam] Jihad said giving the example of the Prophet. The Prophet is the walking Qur’an. The Prophet is our role model as humanity. He’s a male, but he’s my role model. How do we understand that? Do I just say, “Khadijah, may Allah be at peace with her, she’s my role model.” Or, “Maryam, may Allah be at peace with her, she’s my role model.” No. You know what? The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is my role model, too.

At the same time, for every man in the room, as it states in the Qur’an, Maryam was sent as a sign and a role model for everybody in humanity, not just for women. I think we forget that. We see the example of Asiya, the wife of the Pharaoh. In the Qur’an, it says she’s an example for everybody in humanity, not just for women. I think we’ve lost some of these lessons from the Qur’an.

This was radical, 1,400 years ago, for the word of God to say: your example is a woman for the patriarchal culture of the Arab community of that time. Revolutionary, very revolutionary.

I think we need to reflect on that. Maybe we don’t see that 1,400 years later, but that was revolutionary. When we look at the community of the Prophet, and the character of the Prophet, going back to the word character, that’s what we have to look at. We see that they were men and women who took what we would consider traditional roles and nontraditional roles. Let me focus on a couple of women.

We have Khadijah, may Allah be at peace with her, who was a business woman. She was the queen, or the princess, I don’t like to use the word princess, of Mecca. She was the one who took care of people who were abused. She took care of children who were born who were going to [face] infanticide. Her role was unusual. It was not that it was unusual, but taking something we would think is a nontraditional women’s role at that time.

There were women like Umm ‘Umarah, may Allah be at peace with her, who at the time of the battle of Uhud when Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said to the archers, “Do not leave the mountain, do not leave the mountain.” What did they do when times where turning? Those were all men. When it looked like the Prophet had died, when it looked like things were going sour for the Muslims, they abandoned their post. Who stood there, who’s the person who stood there with her sword and defended the Prophet? It was a woman. The hadith is that Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, said, “Every where I looked, I saw Umm ‘Umarah. Everywhere I looked, she was the one who was protecting me.” There’s an example.

We have the example of Umm Hani during the time of the opening of Mecca. What happened at that time? A man knocked on her door, and she took him in as asylum. Again, let’s think of that patriarchal culture 1,400 years ago. The fact that she opened the door, let him in, and allowed him to take asylum in her home.

We have the example of Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet, who at the time of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, not to get into a long story, but it was a time of crisis within the community when the Muslims couldn’t go and do the pilgrimage. It was the advice of Umm Salama that the Prophet listened to.

We had women who took the roles of being warriors, we had women who took the roles of taking in asylum, like a political position. We had businesswomen, we had women who were advisors. There’s a story of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet, may Allah be at peace with her. When a Christian delegation was coming into Medina, all the male companions were standing in line saying, “Who’s the Prophet going to choose to be the receiving delegation?” Who did he choose? He chose his daughter. He chose other members, but he chose his daughter. That was a little bit uncomfortable for some of the community. Again, he chose her because of her qualities and her characteristics.

That’s what it all comes down to. We all have our characteristics, we have skills, we have our abilities. That should be gender-neutral in that when we look at our role models, we should look at their characters, skills, and abilities and say, “Those are something that we want to emulate.”

Sorry, just focused on the women so far. We know that Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be at peace with him, was also somebody who we knew who was very strong, stood for justice. Many of us know the stories how he remembered his whole life, when he buried his daughter alive, how she touched his beard, and how he got a shovel and he killed his daughter. That’s something that haunted him his whole life. Even though he was known to be violent, there are stories of his violence, but he embodied different characteristics as well. We know that Abu Bakr, who’s the father-in-law of the Prophet, and his closest companion, the first caliph, that he was more on the softer side. His personality was, as maybe we would say now, more feminine.

Again, these constructs are culturally defined as what’s feminine and what’s masculine. I think what the focus should be on, what’s your character? Are you someone who stands for justice? Are you someone who stands for honesty? Are you someone who’s a good advisor?

That’s the lesson to be learned from the Prophetic community: that there’s no monolithic male [or] female role.

Yes, Islam was revealed to a patriarchal society. I don’t think anyone is going to deny that, that’s what we understand to be the historical context. However, as we know, the community in Medina, there were men and women who took different roles and had different personalities, and that was considered acceptable by our Prophet.

Imam Sohaib: This whole time, I’ve been reflecting on this idea that our panelists have talked about so beautifully and eloquently, about the Prophetic way and about the Prophetic community. Where we are today, I think it pales in comparison. That’s not to be pessimistic or to be down, but to be real. The fact is that I don’t think too many people, with a serious face, say that we are living anywhere near to those high ideals and virtues that we’ve been talking about. I want to talk about the gap right now, before opening it up to the audience.

I want to ask each of the panelists about how we bridge these gaps. I want to begin with Shaykh Yahya and ask you what is the role of spiritual education? What is the role of an education of heart in developing men, and also women, who are able to embody a greater resemblance to the virtues of the Prophetic path?

Shaykh Yahya: I believe that we have a very serious problem within the Muslim community in that joining between what we would term within the ranks of Islam is the outward dimension of religion, as opposed to the inward dimension of religion. In other words, how that law relates to the spirit, how spirituality relates to the law. One of the things that you could very convincingly prove is that to the degree that we neglect what is known as the spiritual realities of the religion, there tends to be, along with that, a diminishing respect for women. This is at least definitely my experience, from my reading on the topic as well. I think that could also go hand-in-hand to some of the more radical versions of feminism as well …

It’s really having that balance of understanding, how the outward relates to the inward…

The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, his way, there’s an objective reality to it. But every Muslim will have a subjective relationship to it.

That’s the beauty of what we believe about the Prophet Muhammad is that he is a universal prophet. How he can simultaneously be sent to a patriarchal society that, geographically, at least in the minds of people at the time, is an insignificant place, but at the same time, be a universal prophet. How those teachings could simultaneously treat and radically, and even in a revolutionary way, reform that society, but at the same time, be a template to then also, wherever Islam spreads, which it did very quickly within 110 years, into southern France and hitting onto the borders of western China.

As my supervisor at Cambridge said, “The teachings of the Qur’an, the Sunnah are like the consonants, and then culture places the vowels.” That allows for that beautiful variation and diversity then to appear, just as that water, when it’s over a riverbed, will take on the color of whatever is beneath. What’s important is to always focus on those two aspects, the outward and the inward. That inward dimension is that it’s not related to gender whatsoever, it’s related to a human being’s relationship with God. That is what this is ultimately all about, for male and for female coming to know God. We do that through proper belief, worship, and character, civilly. Then, the outward dimension is it is some we’ll take into consideration, the fitra, the natural disposition of the human being.

It might be that some people have different roles than others, but the beautiful thing is, and this is always what I’ve found very interesting about Islam, is that it’s very difficult to pigeonhole it into a particular corner. I think that’s very frustrating for dialectical Western thinkers who are thinking in very strict ways of thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis. You can’t pigeonhole Islam in many ways…

There are constants. There are things that are black and white, there’s no doubt. However, there’s such a diversity of expression that I think that’s very frustrating for people to understand, “How do you relate that to that?” I think this is part and parcel to the universality of Islam.

What we need to promote is a very balanced understanding of how the outward relates to the inward, and to reiterate that most beautiful point that was mentioned is that there is not a monolithic way of being a Muslim; there are multiple expressions.

This is the strength and the beauty of the teachings of the Prophet that [it] allows for that. At the same time, it caters to the natural disposition, which might be the majority, but it allows for multiple expressions that can then, even at a particular juncture or geographical place in history, it allows for a very different expression at a very different juncture in history and geographical place. To me, that’s its beauty. Balancing the outward and inward, to me, is what is really key as to how me move forward, leading to … the trickle-down effect, producing practical effect in dealing with these issues.

Imam Sohaib: Atiya, you had talked about this idea that undoubtedly, the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the Qur’anic revelation came in a time of patriarchy. Now, when we think about masculinity, gender dynamics, and the understanding and implementation of the Sharia in our own personal lives and communal formations, how do we think about these things, given that those were patriarchal times? If we are challenging some aspects of patriarchy, at least if not the entire notion of patriarchy, then how do we relate to the Sharia in our times? How does that work with how we conceive of the mosque, the space of women and men in the mosque, in relationship to that idea of reform?

Professor Atiya: As Muslims, we are carriers of Islam in this country, and all over the world. I think we have to have a good understanding of what terminology is. How many years have we spent trying to debunk “jihad is not holy war”? With the word “sharia,” there’s so much negative connotation. If we really understand the word, what it means from an Islamic legal perspective, from a literal translation perspective, we understand that “sharia” means the path to happiness in this world, felicity in this world, and salvation in the hereafter. That’s maybe not what you thought “sharia” meant. That path is set forth through ethical and legal principles. Where do they come from? They come from the sources of law and ethics.

Continued in Part 2 of the Spirituality and Religious Authority panel.


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