Part 2: What a difference a kasrah makes

Now, whenever I come across something within early scholarship on the Qur’ān that calls for liberating women, I usually brace myself for someone who will come along and try to undo it. I naturally assumed, after reading al-Farrā’, that Ṭabarī was going to sell us out. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t! He affirms his predecessor’s reading: “This reading, with the kasrah on the qāf, is the one I consider to be most correct, for, if it is from waqār as we have chosen (‘alā mā akhtarnā), then there is no doubt that the reading must have a kasrah on the qāf.”

So, the root waqara becomes qir in the command form (be dignified). For addressing a group of women, the letter nūn would be added to make the word: qirna. Ṭabarī then reminds us of other verbs that behave the same way in the command form. Waʿda (promise) becomes ʿid. Wazana (weigh) becomes zin.

He then repeats al-Farrā’ verbatim, pointing out that if you’re going to use the other root (qarra, to be sedentary) then you have a lot more work to do to coax it into dropping the extra rā’. Zamakhsharī (d. 1144) follows this model of presenting both possibilities, but he does not align himself with one. Qurṭubī (d. 1272), who usually copies Ṭabarī verbatim, affirms that the proper pronunciation is with a kasrah, but chooses the alternate meaning, despite all the machinations necessary to bring it into line with the rules of grammar.

Still he notes that he has heard a different meaning altogether, “from aqarr bihi ‘aynan (to have joy),” and the meaning is, “take joy in your homes (wa-qrirna bihi ‘aynān fī buyūtikunna).” Ignoring the fact that this reading doesn’t quite work grammatically (to what does the bihi refer?), Qurṭubī says it’s reasonable (wa huwa wajh ḥasan), but there’s a hadith that says women should stay home. “Ammār told ‘Ā’ishah that God had told her to stay home, and she replied, ‘Oh, Abā Yaqdhān, You’re still speaking the Truth!’”

‘Ā’ishah, the “most eloquent of people “(not just women), the expert on early law and teacher of a generation! Can you envision an exchange like that? I don’t THINK so. However, let’s not dismiss it before we take a look and see if this gem made it into Bukhārī or Muslim.

Zip. Zero. Big fat bagels. Nothing in Bukhārī, Muslim, Tirmidhī, Abū Dā’ūd, Ibn Mājah or Mālik’s Muwaṭṭa’. Nothing, of course, in al-Farrā’ or Ṭabarī. In short, here’s what we have: We have al-Farrā’ and after him, we have Ṭabarī, both of whom are good enough for our male religious establishment on any and all other occasions, both arguing that the absence of the kasrah would make this word into something it’s not. Ibn Mujāhid himself notes that only two of the Seven Readers use the fatḥah and ALL FIVE of the others use the kasrah.

But, hey, let’s take the Ibn-Mujāhid equal-validity-of-all-seven-readings idea and just say that aqrarna could indeed reduce to qarna (with the fatḥah not the kasrah). We are then left with the command form of remain or settle, which is what we find in our Qur’ān today. On what basis does it have to mean anything other than, settle your homes and make them stable places? In other words, don’t leave your homes and go on a 30-city tour with Led Zeppelin! Be there for your kids. Read to your kids, or read for yourself, a book (or the Qur’ān!) instead of spending your time “getting your tabarruj on” at the Clinique counter.

There is space for both of these interpretations. (But the dignity one is “more correct” says Mr. Sunnī Universe.)

Nearly 100 years ago in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal tried to prove to the world that Muslim women were not prisoners of their homes. He offered enticements to bring them out of their houses, encouraging them to learn and to work. He even put them in beauty pageants to show them off, or beat the non-Muslim world at its own game (well, heck, how better to honor a woman than to parade her, scantily-clad, up and down a catwalk?!). But that he had something to prove is the bummer, right? That Muslim women had been prisoners of their homes, and were certainly still perceived as such, surely played into his decision to take an opposite extreme.

We don’t have to participate in beauty pageants to prove we are not prisoners. But we still have prisons from which to liberate ourselves and our sisters. One such prison is that of illiteracy (when was the last time any of us helped a sister learn to read in any language?), and the other is the prison in which patriarchal interpretation is unquestioningly accepted. There is space to be found in our sources for kinder, gentler interpretations; there are scholars whose beautiful minds win them all kinds of crowns and sashes among the “male establishment,” and indeed among ‘trying-to-cope’ believing women like you and me. And there is no reason why women can’t win the pageants of the mind. We could crowd several catwalks with history’s Muslim women scholars; ‘Ā’ishah and Ḥafṣa bint Sīrīn were but two of our earliest stars.

However, for now, I reckon we girls need to spend just a little more time cracking the grammar books.

I’m staying home today to do just that…
Carolyn Baugh is a PhD candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is writing her doctoral dissertation on the subject of forced prepubescent marriage in early Islamic legal texts. She is also the author of a novel entitled “The View from Garden City” (Forge, 2008). 

Photo Credit: Fadzly’s Eyes


  • W.M. says:


    This article is symptomatic of a profound malaise in the Ummah.

    The trouble begins before the argument begins: namely, with your morally problematic (read: anti-Islamic) commitment to feminist a prioris.  You of course make no attempt to validate these prejudices- which can’t even claim the sanction of time.  For a tendentious feminist construction to work, to prove its validity, you’d have to supress most of the documentary record.

    Even granting that one canonical Qur’an reading is correct, in exclusion to all the others (which was never the claim of classical scholarship), the idea that women should generally remain in their homes still isn’t precluded.  Islamic Law rests on broader foundations than a single reading of a single ayah of the Qur’an with no negative legal implications.  As it happens, there is plenty pointing the other way- but your argument willfully neglects it.  Surely this has something to do with your intentions: you don’t *really* want to get to the bottom of things, you just have religious literacy and a theoretical axe to grind.  Evidence which suits your conclusions is taken seriously and all else is discarded.  Needless to say, that’s not how our religion works.

    It reads like a feminist Whig history; that God ‘emancipated’ women, but that a coterie of hairy, learned men concealed (and conceal) it.  Always with the men!  Why can’t you just admit that, for good or for bad, the historical gender dynamic has never been to your taste?  Including, of course, the one enshrined in the shari`a?  I’m sure I’d be able to respect that a lot more.

    Your article won’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced.

  • W.M. says:

    I guess what I want (if I have a right to ask for anything) is an admission that classical Islamic norms are deeply troubling to feminists.  I’m sure your doctoral dissertation will prove my point admirably well.

  • Michael Elwood says:

    It’s good to see sisters engaged in Quranic exegesis like they did in the past (Aisha, Hafsa, Juwayriyya bint al-?????rith, Ghaz??la al-Har??riyya, etc).

    I’m aware of at least one translation on the market that agrees with this interpretation, the Quran: A Reformist Translation. One of the co-authors, Martha Schulte, is a woman. Here is what her footnote for 33:33 says:

    “One of the verbs in this verse can be understood in two ways, depending on the inclusion or exclusion of the letter W. Traditional commentators read it “wa QaRna” (and they should settle), derived from the root QRR, meaning to settle, sit down, etc. They translate the phrase as “sit in your homes.” This translation followed by generalization of the instruction has been used as one of the reasons for why Muslim women should be confined in her homes. We prefer reading it as WaQaRna, which comes from the root WQR, which means acting in an honorable, kind, and dignified manner. (See 48:9; 71:13). Our reading would not be accurate if the verb was spelled, QaRaRna, from the root QRR. (See 7:143; 14:26,29; 22:5; 23:13; 27:61; 38:60; 40:39,64). It is evident that Muhammad’s wives had their separate income and wealth.”

    Hopefully, other translations will give voice to a female point of view.

  • carolyn baugh says:

    Thank you Michael!  I will definitely check out Martha Schulte’s translation—I’m thrilled to find such ready evidence of the utilization of the full breadth of the early sources to inform understanding of the Qur’anic text.

    As for the good brother WM, I am completely uninterested in engaging in this sort of debate—al-Ghaz??l?? among others cautioned against wars of words designed to belittle and humiliate or impugn the faith of others.  Had you come forward with some sort of flaw in the content of my scholarship on this issue, this would be one thing, but you are only interested in excoriating my (and my sisters’) discontent with an oppressive interpretation.  We will not apologize for our discontent.  The women imprisoned by the Taliban in their homes, prevented from working as their children starved, will not apologize for their discontent.  The women imprisoned before them by al-?????kim bi Amr Allah in 11th century Cairo on the same premise, did not apologize, and many began practicing nonviolent civil disobedience, going out of their homes after his ban of women in the streets had entered its seventh year.  He rounded up these groups of protesters, tied them together, and drowned them in the Nile.  I posit that many of these, as many women now, were not reading the early opinions of scholars who would have agreed that women should “stay home” and rejecting them as incompatible with their “feminism”.  I posit that instead they knew in their hearts, or their fitras, or that angelic portion of the soul so deeply attached to and emanating from God that GOD IS JUST and it is absurd to allow God’s words to be used as tools of oppression. 

    By all means discard my scholarship simply because it comes from a Western feminist.  Impugn my faith and accuse me of irreverence for the Shar??‘ah.  The fact of who I am does not obviate the content of the posted articles (or the many articles like them which already exist from other scholars and which will in sha Allah continue to come into existence).  Neither I nor the multitudes of fast-becoming-educated Muslimahs like me need your permission to exist or to fight for better and more just realities for believing women who are struggling to survive against vicious misogyny propagated by the under-informed (and note that the under-informed are often men and women).  Anywhere that Islam is used as a weapon against humans instead of a blessing for them you will find active, engaged scholars, and these are the true lovers of their religion, working to emphasize that which is good and healthy and just and beautiful and empowering within the religion.

    And note also that it is not just Muslim women who pursue these ends; many Muslim men actively seek truth beyond the framework of what is comfortable and what reinforces the structures of patriarchy.  I will leave you with a quote from Ibn Taymiyyah’s student, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, d. 731/1350.  Do note the ending: —“In this world and the next.” 
    Ask the women of Afghanistan about their happiness in this world under the “stay home” interpretations espoused by the Taliban.  And then, perhaps you should read a little more Muslim scholarship.  Start with Ibn al-Qayyim and then try al-Sh????ib??‘s al-Muw??faq??t f?? u?????l al-shar??‘ah.  Understanding the Maq????id, the Intent of Shar??‘ah will enrich your approach and indeed increase YOUR reverence, dear brother.

    From his law manual:
    I??l??m al-Muwaqqa????n [which translates to:  What everyone who signs off [i.e. On a fatwa] needs to know.]
      ???Shar????ah???s basis is upon restraint and benefits for servants in this life and the next.  Shar????ah is all justice and all mercy and all benefit and all wisdom.  Thus, every issue which leaves the domain of justice for oppression, for the domain of mercy for its opposite, and the domain of benefit for harm, and the domain of wisdom for folly, then it it is not of Shar????ah, even if some interpretation should make it so. 
      For Shar????ah is the justice of God between His servants, and His mercy among His creations, and His shade upon His Earth, and His wisdom which proves His [existence] and the truth of His Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him—the most complete indicator and most truthful.  Shar????ah is His light by which He has caused people to see, and His guidance by which He has led people, and His complete cure for every sickness, and His straight path—whoever stays upon that path will have lived uprightly.
      [Shar????ah] is joy, and the awakening of hearts and the bliss of souls.  Through it there is life and nourishment, cure and light and health and blamelessness, and all goodness in existence emerges from it, and is attainable by it, and every lack in existence is due to having lost sight [of Shar????ah].  And were it not for traces [of Shar????ah] that have endured, the world would have been destroyed.  It is sinlessness for people and endurance for the world, and by it, God causes the heavens and the earth to endure, and if God Most High desired that the Earth be destroyed, He would gather unto himself the traces of Shar????ah.  For the Shar????ah that God sent His Messenger with is the backbone of the world, and the summit of success and happiness in this world and the next.”

  • W.M. says:

    You don’t have to patronise me.  I know about maqasid (in the modern world, unfortunately, a synonym for methodological nifaq).

    You talk about justice a lot- like the rest of your ilk- without bothering to tell us what it is.  Justice is what Allah and Sayyidna Muhammad- salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam ordered- not what we learned in our childhoods, or what TV taught us, or what the UN enjoins (or what you uncritically swallow from some white women).

    As I pointed out, your argument is horribly flawed because, and I quote:

    ‘Islamic Law rests on broader foundations than a single reading of a single ayah of the Qur???an with no negative legal implications’

    e.g. and I could bring literally dozens of examples- the hadith of Ibn Khuzayma according to which: when a woman leaves her house, the devil gets his hopes up.

    Clearly the case with you and your jahili tabbarruj.

  • W.M. says:

    ‘I posit that instead they knew in their hearts, or their fitras, or that angelic portion of the soul so deeply attached to and emanating from God that GOD IS JUST and it is absurd to allow God???s words to be used as tools of oppression. ‘

    Allahu akbar!  So feminism is a transcendent revelation?  Hm.  That makes you an incompetent historian as well as a doctrinally obnoxious believer.

  • W.M. says:

    And don’t make God in your image.  His Justice certainly isn’t yours.

  • OmarG says:

    @W.M. >>from some white women

    Aha, is this the source of your anger? Is Islam nothing more to you than a way to drop out of so-called “white” society and norms? Woe to the one who misuses and abuses the Deen of Allah…

  • Anas Coburn says:

    I’m sorry to see the comment thread taking this direction—the quick degeneration to ad hominems—particularly because i think you raise important points. I am fine with strong rejection of an author’s contention (though it is neither helpful to courteous to comment on the author’s intentions)—and I think the issue of a priori assumptions with which one approaches the text is really very important.

    It is so easy to believe (though we may be unlikely to acknowledge) that our emotional sensibility has a kind of validity that somehow trumps the preponderance of scholarship and historical interpretation of a particular point. When we allow ourselves to fall into this trap, we are indeed failing to give due weight to the ways in which our emotional sensitivities themselves are an artifact of the particular time and cultural mileau in which we live.

    At the same time, this issue of a priori assumptions and emotional sensitivities cuts both ways. Everyone lives in a particular time and a particular culture which shapes their experience and how they read a text—even our pious predecessors. So it may well be that a particular interpretation is simply an artifact of the time and culture in which it was promulgated and no closer to ‘getting to the bottom of things’ than a more modern reading.

    I used to get quite upset when I would hear people spouting apparently scholarly interpretations which seemed to me dangerous and contrary to what I understood Islam to be about (btw, this author’s point doesn’t fall into that category for me) … then someone pointed out that Allah will preserve His Deen…and that if a particular scholarly viewpoint is off-target, we merely have to wait 300 years or so, by which time it will have died out.

    For me, it is not Islam that needs to be reformed, but Muslims. And noticing the way we treat others to whom Allah has chosen to give the great gift of Islam.

  • Anas Coburn says:

    last sentence should read:
    “We can start reform of ourselves by noticing the way we treat others to whom Allah has chosen to give the great gift of Islam.”

  • husnain1 says:


    I was just wondering what exactly are your qualifications in the area of Quranic exegesis Ms./Mrs.(?) Baugh?  From what I have read your dissertation is on gender issues in Islamic Law.  Personally, I don’t know if you are fully qualified to speak on the matter and hence i’m asking for clarification on your studies.  I don’t mean to offend but a few years of schooling does not make one a scholar in Islam.  As to the validity of your argument I don’t think you are necessarily right or wrong however, I think that the people who did take offense to your view was due more in part to the way you seem to suggest that the Quran needs to be “reformed.”  Furthermore, I agree with Brother Anas that the real reformation needed is from the Muslims themselves not Islam.  Let us not forget that the greatest proponent of feminism is the Quran itself.  Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) brought forth rights to women that were unparalleled during the times of jahiliyya.  I think the problems that women of the Ummah face today are due in part to the ignorance of Islam mixed with backwards cultural views.  One more thing i’d like to add is that if women were meant to stay at home why are they required to be covered since at home they would only be amongst mahram males and females anyways.  To sum, I think that the Quran and Islam itself are not the problem rather it is the Muslims themselves who have strayed away from sirat-ul-mustaqeen.

  • aminhas says:

    Ms. Baugh thank you so much for this delightful article. It’s articles like these that inspire me to brush up on my Arabic once again. I hope you are planning to write more articles for Alt Muslimah!

  • OmarG says:

    @husnain1: >> does not make one a scholar in Islam.

    What does, then?? We have no Pope, no central certification authority, just lots of smart and not so smart people with made-up titles that did not exist in the time of the Prophet. Much of what we see today in Islam are merely the artifacts of Empires that needed lawyers and judges. Those empires no longer exist…

  • OmarG says:

    I think that’s very vague. What about Morocco? How about studying in Malaysia at the international islamic university? How many years? Which books and which scholars should they study from? If a person can derive so many questions in only a minute, then we really don’t have a definition of who a scholar is and what qualifications they should have before we listen to them. This is a real problem for Authority, but its a real opportunity because it also allows many peoples’ work to be read and disputed, which is good for discovering the the best way to do something for a particular people, in a particular clime and place…which is exactly how new, controversial opinions eventually become the normal thing.

  • husnain1 says:

    @ Omar G: you seemed to have missed the point totally.  I gave Al-Azhar and Saudi as examples of where people go to study to further their education in islam, that doesn’t mean one can’t study in other countries.  As far as I know students of Islam receive their authority to issue rulings based on sharia.  Let me ask you, if you needed a ruling on an Islamic issue would you be asking your local Imam at the masjid or Ms. Baugh?

  • husnain1 says:


    For me a scholar is one who is able to issue rulings based on the sharia  
    and who has spent a considerable amount of time studying Islam.  Although we don’t have a clergy scholars do learn from those before.  Many of the world’s most renowned Islamic scholars have spent years studying at Al-Azhar in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

  • katseye says:

    husnain, if Ms. Baugh were, say, Azizah al Hibri or Ingrid Matteson or Soaud Saleh, would you go to her for a fatwa or clarification on an issue?

  • OmarG says:

    >>students of Islam receive their authority to issue rulings based on

    Which are?? How are you comfortable with your own imams or scholars if you don’t even know what the standard for qualification is? Or, even if there really is one (hint: there is not).

    >> would you be asking your local Imam at the masjid or Ms. Baugh?

    Well, we don’t have an imam anymore because the previous one tried to be naughty with them sisters. Other than a few from Zaytuna and a chaplain here and there, none of the imams I’ve ever met even grew up here so they are distinctly unqualified to properly understand the social and cultural contexts of the question and match it up with suitable references to Quranic ayaat or Prophetic hadith. They sometimes have mastered one side of the coin (and even then, often rote memorization rather than critical thinking like Tabari, etc), but they get an epic fail for the other side of the coin: **context**.

  • husnain1 says:

    I don’t understand what the fuss is all about in asking someone their educational background? 

    @ katseye I don’t necessarily disagree with her views she is allowed to comment on it, personally I don’t think she is qualified to comment on the matter I could be totally wrong because I don’t know her schooling in Islam.

    @ OmarG I misspoke, I meant to say students of Islam receive their authority from their teachers.  Islam does not have a clergy but if you look at its history the scholars are those who learned from the more qualified before them.  For example, the greatest scholar of Islam was the Prophet (SAW) himself and he taught others.  Now if you look at the sahaba they gave deference amongst each other in matters of Islam based upon who was known to have the greatest amount of knowledge.  Basically scholars of Islam are those who have fulfilled the qualifications set forth for them by scholars before them.  Just take a look at the scholars Ms. Baugh herself is referencing there has to be some sort of consensus on what a scholar is and what its qualifications are otherwise it would be bad scholarship to reference people for an article who hold no authority (in your view). As far as the imam of you local masjid is concerned that is not characteristic of every Imam out there. 

    Try checking out these articles: http:,//,

  • ASyed says:

    @Carolyn Baugh: May Allah guide and bless your work.

    @W.M.: As your brother in Islam, I advise you to back off.  Apologies would go further, but the least you can do here is to drop the incivility.  I say this as someone who doesn’t disagree with what you’re saying, but rather how you’re saying it.

    As the Messenger of Allah, on him be peace, said (in Bukhari and Malik): “I was only sent to perfect good character.”

  • MohamadAhmad says:

    As-Salam ‘Alaykum. Very interesting article. I’m new to this site and I’m inspired by the quality of writing. From my understanding of history women were not forced to stay home so I don’t understand why there is a debate about women leaving the house.

    I know that in recent history it seems like many Muslim societies force women to stay home but I wonder how scholars who understood the verse to mean “wa qarna (and stay)” applied that meaning in their times. Again it seems as though even a scholar who interpreted it as “wa qarna (and stay)” did not advocate that women should stay at home.

    Finally, I think that by keeping the conversation civil we will be able to have a more fruitful discussion and even debate because we can focus on the issue rather than making fun of the people.

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