REVISITING THE WOMAN QUESTION:
AN ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE
Theme originally developed from a presentation at a Symposium
"Muslim Women Scholars on Women in Islam"
Chicago Theological Seminary, November 7th 1990.
Appraising the Terms of a Quest
An Islamic perspective on the human condition, including the question of women, is necessarily radical - in the literal sense - if only on account of its holism and its transcendence. It is however a perspective which has not been adequately explored at the epistemological and scholarly level and, ironically, it is rarely applied when studying a Muslim context. Instead the latter is frequently subjected to external perspectives which are often reductionist and partial, and are arbitrarily imposed regardless of compatibility or congruence. Meanwhile the benefits that might accrue other equally diverse contexts from a holistic and transcendent perspective are lost on conventional scholarship. Despite an increased context sensitivity within certain strains of contemporary feminist writing, both among westerners and non-westerners, and notably among feminists socialists and post-modernists, this trend hardly affects the way in which women in the Muslim world continue to be perceived and examined, more often as innate objects of inquiry. While the importance of the context in addressing specific aspects of the Woman Question cannot be stressed enough, our focus in this essay is on exploring aspects of the Islamic perspective on a more general level.
Our implicit assumption is that beyond its evident historicity, the Woman Question has a universal dimension to it as well, as the attendant transcultural resonances it evokes well illustrates. Our purpose is to bring to bear an Islamic intellectual perspective on this universality and question the Question. In doing so, we hope to gain additional insights on both a timely perspective and a festering issue. Articulating aspects of this perspective exposes some of the inadequacies and limitations of the prevailing paradigm of inquiry in the field of women's studies. It also highlights areas of potential convergence among elements coming from a shaping Islamic perspective, with strains of a critical counter-culture, as it edges its way past the fringes of the academy.
At the outset a number of terms will need to be clarified relating to the Woman Question and to what we mean by an Islamic perspective. The woman question has come to be defined over time in terms of problems arising from the indeterminate and changing status and role of women in society. It has generally been assumed to be a question of ascertaining/ affirming women's rights and liberating women from the yoke of a systemic oppression which keeps them subordinated to the 'tyranny' of men, an oppression made possible by an order of society sanctioning male domination and qualified as 'patriarchal.' In the words of Gayle Rubins, this has rendered the literature on women - both feminist and anti-feminist - "a long rumination on the question of the nature and genesis of women's oppression and social subordination." In this sense, the Woman Question may be presumed to be a modern question in more than one sense. First, it is modern to the extent that rights and freedoms are assumed to be historically recent acquisitions related to a triumphant individualism and to the discovery of the principle of human individuality. As women became aware of themselves as autonomous individuals they too began to nurture expectations and to make corresponding claims upon society. Secondly, it is a modern issue in the sense that it had no place in traditional society by virtue of the very definition of tradition and modernity. In the former, a certain hierarchy and order prevailed where everyone had his or her place and was secure in knowing it. By contrast, the coming of modernity was marked by rupture whereby the norms of a tradition were questioned, and the re-making of the social order was on foot. In this new order nothing was received and nothing transmitted. Everything had to be made out, rationalized, and legitimated on new grounds, and this included the position of women. Thirdly - and related to the latter proposition - the very perception of the Woman Question is a function of modernity which brought with it the realization that things could be different, nothing was `given' and that whatever existed could be open to challenge and change. In short, modernity brought with it the countenancing of an ever-biology (sex) and society (gender). These are factors which explain why the Woman widening range of possibilities - such as was bound to extend to the realms of Question, as we know it today, is essentially a modern question and that it could not have arisen in the same way in a traditional society.
Conversely, an Islamic perspective might concede to the historicity of the Woman Question, but it would contest that it was essentially a modern question. Woman's status and role in any society is as integral to society itself as life is to humanity. Therefore it pertains to that class of pertinent universal questions which is valid to every age and people, and which must squarely be addressed and resolved. On the other hand, the distinction between tradition and modernity in addressing the Woman Question does not stand up to the test of an Islamic resolution. What counts in deciding women's position in a given society is not whether it is accepted or contested, but it is the sources for the rationality and legitimacy of this position that are at stake as well as the perceptions of equity which prevail at any given moment. This means that it would be as misleading to identify an Islamic perspective with tradition as it would to question its compatibility with modernity.
Beyond Tradition and Modernity
To put the same idea in a different way one might take a more practical context. Historically, when Islam affirmed the human status of women, assured its systemic regulation, and vested woman accordingly with a legal personality in seventh century Arabian society, it did not do so simply as a rupture with tradition or as a revolution in prevailing mores. Rather, it came to reinforce the positive aspects that might have then existed in what was essentially an anarchical setting, to annul and check its negative impulses, and to reconstruct the matrix for a more viable and moral social entity. In the same vein, when routinization set in, and Islamic precepts became part of a prevailing tradition, the identification with Islam might well have served to legitimate a tradition but it did not, and could not, reduce Islam to that - or any other, particulartradition.
With this in mind, it is possible to see how a tradition might, in time, come to be contested in the very name of the precepts to which it claims allegiance, and how in the course of this confrontation, Islam can become the vehicle for modernity. However, Islam is not to be confused with modernity any more than with tradition. In contesting the status quo and demanding change, both Muslim modernists and neo-normatives - or `authenticates'- act out of a conviction in the existence of an autonomous order of justice and equity which they see as lacking in the one and unattainable in the other. They seek it in Islam. This provides the context for current attempts at articulating an Islamic perspective in general and for relating it to the Woman Question in particular.
Feminist Affinities: Power and Justice
Articulating an Islamic perspective on the Woman Question starts with postulating a common point of reference which serves at once to relate it to an identifiable core and to distinguish it from prevailing perspectives. If the Woman Question could be attributed to the emergence of a gendered consciousness, as existentialist feminists would maintain, then its affinity with the feminist movement which constitutes its political expression is clear enough. In a general way, the feminist movement can be classified as a movement of social reform. Such a movement usually arises to protest a given order and to reach for an alternative. In its protest it is prompted by a sense of grievance and, in its ambitions, it is inspired by a vision. Given the fact that the grievance is far more tangible than the vision, we might take the feminist movement as militating against a generalized sense of oppression of women in society - an approach which can be related to the Islamic notion of zulm, wrong, as opposed to equity or right. This also sets the stage for the task of a feminist scholarship: As the academic wing of a radical movement it perceives its value exclusively in terms of the contribution it can make to "the political project of ending women's subordination."
An Islamic counterpart would modulate the tone and qualify the intent, without however detracting from the morality or the ethic of an intent or a commitment.
As the under-side of domination, oppression evokes a relational dimension on the one hand and issues of power and justice on the other. A politics of social power thus comes to be ineluctably linked to an ideology of social justice, and the Woman Question becomes the battling and embattled ground for contending visions of the just society. In an Islamic perspective however, just as the Woman Question might be conceived as part of a more general social question of a right and equitable order, justice and power are part of an essentially moral and ontological order which goes beyond politics and ideology. In this way an Islamic critique of prevailing perspectives constitutes a radical critique - again, in the literal sense. It raises fundamental issues of moral agency and accountability, at the same time as it blazes the path for new possibilities. An alternative order and perspective which cohere round a holistic interpretation of the moral and social status of women comes to be seen as a perfectly plausible assumption. With this general outline of the assumptions and rationale for revisiting the Woman Question, we can chart the elements for a critical discourse and pave the way for a new synthesis.
Semantics and Parameters:
Gendered Justice, Engendered Wrongs
In Islam concepts belong to an integrated semantic and conceptual field which stems from the tawhidi belief system and worldview. Given the transcendental axis of the way of knowing, which we shall refer to below as the tawhidi episteme, and given its holistic approach to all aspects of life, including temporality itself, it would be specious to attempt to see the "Woman Question" or indeed any other facet of the social question in a fragmenting or merely a horizontal perspective. This would hardly do justice to our understanding of women in Islam. Yet this is frequently the only perspective which is available to the student in the field. It is often found as much in Muslim literature on the subject of both varieties, the apologetic and the defamatory, as in the Western scholarly forays in the relevant departments of anthropological and Middle Eastern area studies.
To show what is meant by the need to define/refine perspectives, one can pause at the origins of the debate on the position of women in society, or, on the Woman Question to ascertain its extent and limits as an ideational/ ideological construct. As suggested above, the feminist movement has its ambivalent origins, as both a social reform movement emerging to protest concrete and specific grievances and as a more pervasive ideological protest identifying with issues of human emancipation and gender equality. These latter issues are implicitly taken to be the conditions for redressing an unjust order perpetuated against women and, by the same token, they also prescribe the parameters of both justice and its obverse, oppression. Seen in these terms, the crux of the Woman Question would appear to be an elementary plea for justice. There is a rationale to this plea. The perceived injustices are attributed to the status quo - a prevailing social and cultural order which is often identified with "patriarchy". The latter in turn is conceived of as an institutionalized pattern of male dominance grounded in marriage and reproduced, diffused, and perpetuated through its consecration as the natural order of things and as a legacy sanctified through time immemorial. Feminism however makes little concession to Nature and, far from conceding it any sanctity, it questions the validity of what it sees as a perverted legacy.
Yet, no matter how radical the posture, the issue of gender injustice is rarely addressed in its totality or conceived in an integral context of general "oppression". The idea is rarely entertained that there might exist a pervasive order of reality that is affected by a systemic and diffuse injustice which affects other domains of human existence and social relations as well. What is at stake for conventional and mainstream feminists is a gendered oppression, although here too articulating oppression in gendered terms has led to many cul-de-sacs as is amply demonstrated in an evolving scholarship. This merely confirms the fact that issues of oppression or injustice have usually been conceived of in a fragmentary and partial manner. The record of radical movements in modern times shows how defining oppression and fighting for the "liberation of man" from exploitation has taken on a variety of forms, but that it has rarely been seen either in its totality, nor properly attributed to its causality. There was no reason why feminist perceptions on this theme should be exempt from the general constraints which affected other analogous constructs.
Alternative perspectives can yield different interpretations. In a view coming from an Islamic perspective, the problem does not merely lie in misperceptions in locating the status of women in society or in defining and promoting their rights. It lies in the area of a broader misperception of the nature of oppression and injustice. Whether the area of inquiry is some general philosophical aspect of the human condition or a particular sociological analysis of some aspect of social organization, the point calls for addressing issues of a fundamental order. This equally subsumes the need of reconsidering prevailing configurations of those structuring and structured relations of human dependency and systemic affinities as they might obtain at any given moment and in any concrete situation. Only then would one be at a decided advantage in tackling the `woman question' - a question which is only fictively assumed in its generality - or in dealing with any other specific/ festering social issue. Hence, in addressing the question at hand, it must be clear from the outset that the very generality which enables us to abstract constitutes its own constraint. Beyond that, it will be necessary to distinguish the global historical context for addressing this question, and then to focus on what might constitute a distinctively Islamic mode for its projection.
Historical Contexts and Projections Considered
Given the fact that in the contemporary world, it is the West that calls the piper's tune for the emancipationist creed, a brief examination of the general constraints which attend current dominant feminist rationalizations may be viewed in its context. The West may be culturally defined as heir to a historical legacy born of a fateful convergence between Athens, Rome and Jerusalem. Nor should the consequences of an equally fateful and ongoing encounter with Islam be overlooked. In fact it is the task of scholarship today to redress the oversight and expose the "silence" and repression which have long kept that latter convergence in the dark. In that historical West, we have on record two principal directions in the struggle launched against oppression; one takes its cue from the individual and the other from society. The first is associated with a liberal individualist ethos and is exemplified in the democracies of the free world. The second was until quite recently embodied in the socialist regimes and movements crusading for a just and equitable society founded on equality. In each case, and all cases considered, the prognostics on the roots of oppression and the rationalizations tendered to explain it may have varied in the details but, one point was shared by all. It was a deepening transcendental void that provided the backdrop and the shaping impulse for the social reform movements in the post-Reformation and Enlightened world which was ushered in by a globalizing modernity. This conspicuous absence was disguised, ignored and conflated beneath the persuasiveness of a newly acclaimed authority clad in the din of a positivist rhetoric.
The absence of the transcendental dimension, an absence which has become the hallmark of modernity, had its anaemic consequences for understanding the Woman Question, as indeed for understanding all other questions of an existential nature beyond the immediate social and political order. It diminished the conceptions and definitions of the problems of the age, a distortive diminuition which was practically reflected in the banal prescriptions of the "solutions" it proposed. Poverty-stricken and insipid, the projected ideals and blue-prints of the just order tend to give way ultimately to a wasteland of experimental pragmatics and moralities. That became most conspicuous and pernicious in the area affecting the primordial social unit in society, namely the family.
Inherent Constraints and Dominant Matrices
This was not surprising. Both the individualist/liberal and the collectivist/ communitarian perceptions which were ideally juxtaposed and counterposed as exclusive and exclusionary alternatives, were of a piece. They were rooted in a benevolent but constrictive and self-constricting secular vision which fed on a diffuse ethic initially associated with the positivist creed of a post-Cartesian era and subsequently further compounded by the Comtean and Hegelian conflux. It is of the essence of this philosophy to be reductionist, ego-centric, and materialistic. It is above all a philosophy that is deeply cleft on the ravines of binary perceptions and conflictual leitmotifs. All this has had its indubitable consequences for shaping and texturing the modern feminist discourse in the West. It will take more than the reversals of post-modernity to offset these traits. They are of more than passing significance in any research into the humanities and the social disciplines because they constitute the very traits which have shaped consecutive generations of deluded and delusionary perceptions and which have contributed to a biased and short-sighted scholarship. This observation holds whether the focus is on contemporary women's studies or on any other human and social sector along with its constituent institutions and knowledge matrices in society.
The successive industrial and communications revolutions accelerated the impact of modernity and extended the sway of this philosophy. With its globalization, perspectives prevailing in modern Western scholarship asserted their imperious grip on the mind of generations beyond the historical West. It was not surprising that Muslims as scholars and reformers should have also come to see their own societies and social issues in the mirror of the dominant West. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Woman Question. Obversely it might be contended that even within the Muslim context, the Woman Question cannot be seen independently of the prevailing cultural matrix in the West. In this regard, the ambivalent naturalist and humanist biases characteristic of such a matrix remain as uncomplimentary and obstructive to any project that seeks to define/construct human gender, for both men and women, whatever the historical or socio-cultural conditions might be. In redressing prevailing perspectives an alternative is necessary. Conversely, redressing specific perspectives on Women in Islam can hardly be confined to relocating and redefining the subject in the broader context of Islam as a faith, a civilization, a culture and a socio-juristic field, without also confronting the conflations produced in the refractions of an East/West mirror. Globality and modernity further add to the imperatives of addressing the Woman Question in an Islamic perspective. In its generality and specificity the question would seem more plausibly to revert to and converge on a generalized protest and grievance against prevailing norms of sociality, or social organization and interaction, including gender-based social relations. If this is the case, and there is significant support for this view in the literature, then observations coming from an Islamic perspective relating to what constitutes justified grievance - and its dissociation from delusive, anomic, or self-serving grievance-mongering - would be particularly useful in any consideration that aims at comprehension and comprehensiveness. This is simply another way of re-stating a point on relevance made at the outset. It amounts to proclaiming the contemporary ubiquity of the Woman Question and reclaiming the universality and opportuneness of an Islamic perspective.
Relevance and Essence: Invoking an Alternative
In an Islamic perspective rooted in tawhid, it is possible to invoke a Metaphysics of Oppression/Injustice evocative of the obscurity, the darkness, and the straying associated with the yoke of ignorance. This provides a meaningful matrix embedding the ethical and formal prescriptions and proscriptions associated with Islam as an encompassing belief-system. We could atttempt to convey something of this metaphysics by briefly dwelling on the synoptic and graphic concept of zulm (wronging/self-wronging, oppression, injustice, unfairness, evil). The etymology, semantics, and usage of this term in a Qur'anic lexicon connotes a state of cosmic dysfunction or a seminal `darkness upon darkness'. Qur'anic language has its own resonance and associations which re-create or generate their psychic effect in the human heart as a means of conveying meaning and inducing response. Such is a universe of discourse where the negative associations of oppressive conduct or a prevailing human condition might be depicted metaphorically as stemming from the pit of the blackest of nights in the womb of the earth beneath the fathomless seas, or in the expanse of the heavens shorn of their glittering embellishments. In either case we are left with the zulumat (`darknesses'). This is the obverse of Huda or Hidayah ie. the divine guidance and the translucency or the bright of day and radiance of enlightenment which goes with it. The worst that can befall anyone, from the perspective of divine guidance as much as from that of human perplexity/pathos, is to be left groping in the dark: for then there can be no measure of distinguishing the one from the other, of telling darkness from light. The whole purpose of such luminousity and incandescence that infuse the Clarification (alBayan= another name of the revealed guidance inscribed in Scripture) is to secure humanity against its own excesses and deviations which constitute the essence of Zulm. In the absence of divine guidance, or oblivious to it, human beings are more than likely to fall prey to their own whims and they remain at the mercy of their misinformed and perverted inclinations ultimately suffering the consequences of illusions of power and fancies which they mistake for "interests". The concept of zulm is a rich and flexible one as it includes the idea that injustice is not just a category which applies to inter-human relations, but that it also applies to abuse of oneself, willful and knowing or otherwise. This is the category of zulm al-nafs (self-wronging), a category which pre-eminently invokes a human moral responsibility of the first order.
From the doctrinal standpoint, the greatest injustice that one can do to oneself is to deny God, or more pointedly to associate others/another with God. (This is shirk which constitutes the cardinal offense in Islam). It should not be difficult to see why in the religion of pure tawhid, this should constitute the greatest offense and should be classified in a category of wronging oneself. If God the Creator is the Light and the source of human guidance, then clearly any denial or obfuscation of the idea of God constitutes a sealing off of the source of our perceptions on self, life and other, and a pollution at that very source. From this point the shrouding associated with zulumat sets in, and confusion resulting in disorder, moral chaos, can only follow. In this sense the two original dimensions of zulm conjoin: zulm as darkness associated with an ignorance of truth, and zulm as injustice, associated with the inversion of an order of right, of measure and proportion such as is implicit in `adl. This is the significance of a doctrinal purity in Islam: the assertion of monotheism unadulterated. For it is conceded that insan, generic man (which includes woman) is capable of error and forgetfulness, but as long as the access to the source of Truth remains, then the possibility of recovery, rediscovery, and the re-alignment one's perceptions and actions to the Truth is maintained. The emphasis in the Woman Question as it has been conceived in modernity ( in both its original Marxist and its subsequent individualist formulations) has been on the injustice inflicted upon women by others, men, society, convention or whatever. Rarely has it been thought that in taking the laws and mores in their hands and legislating for themselves in the light of a world reconstructed along the lines of a much vaunted but steadily blurring feminist consciousness, women might instead quite unwittingly be contributing to their own afflictions. Yet, essentially this may be only the gendered variant of a generalized human propensity for mis-appropriating authority and competences and ending up assuming the
burdens of a morality that is beyond them. Conceptually, in admitting zulm al nafs as a category of analysis this self-infliction becomes a possibility - much to the benefit and promise of engaging a reflexive self-critique.
In this view then, the assessment of "Women's Liberation" could on the face of it, qualify as a movement to remove perceived injustices befalling women in society. In fact its consequences entail much that could qualify as an infliction of an even greater grievance by women upon themselves. This brings us back to the general idea that zulm is predicated on its obverse: guidance. In the absence of the latter, human relationships and the human condition in which they are embedded become an open field of experimentation. While doubtless there is an element of "adventure" and "risk-taking" or enterprise in the human venture in this life-world, which includes the necessity of trial and error and of learning by mistake, yet this human venture is neither as random nor is it as "purpose free" as some would like to think. Moreover, trial and error which are integral to human life, can only be a piece-meal process. As such, it is only reasonable that it should be applied to aspects of life and not to its very basis. Morality is predicated on knowledge and when the kind of knowledge which touches on the fundamentals of human life and the social order becomes an object of speculation, then the moral foundations of life become truly precarious.
What has happened in our modern civilized world which has made dramatic technological advances in a span that is best measured by decades rather than centuries, is that the knowledge of our own human interests and of the kind of moral order best suited to our increasingly global societies has, in fact, "regressed". As a contemporary humanist puts it, the scale of modern technology is steadily closing the salutary gap between everyday and ultimate issues, between occasions for common prudence and occasions for illuminated wisdom and confronting us with a pathetic paradox where we need wisdom most when we believe in it least, and such that philosophy that is rational man's ultimate recourse and medium to enlightenment, finds itself unprepared for the challenge. Nor is there much hope in tradition shoring up the dwindling human reserves with the loss of its societal "existential anchors". It is this disproportion between our material achievements and the uncertainties in our moral order which makes contemporary civilization a costly and unpredictable human venture in terms of its effective and potential consequences for human spiritual and moral fulfillment. It is this gap which continues to inspire the effervescence in moral theory as the work of contemporary writers, many of whom are critics of modernity, indicates.
Women and gender related issues occupy pride of place in the dilemmas of a modern culture. In this sense indeed, the Woman Question appears to constitute the intersecting point for the human and social predicaments which have come to define this culture. This is as true today at the turn of the millenium as it was almost fifty years ago when The Modern Woman was credited for an impending civilizational malaise. Seen in terms of a North/South axis, the culture of the North has frequently been defined in terms of its technological breakthroughs and material prosperity as variations on the post-industrial, welfare-society model. Only recently has a sub-culture of moral vacuity and social morbidity come to be identified with them. Such imperfections notwithstanding, this northern tier becomes the standard for evaluating globality - a much prized nexus of modernizing aspirations and achievements. Yet, this very nexus exposes the discrepancy between a material and technological progress on the one hand, and a moral bankruptcy on the other, so that a general human/social disorientation becomes most conspicuous. The failure of social theory in whatever tradition it was conceived at the outset of the century is testimony to this lag. Here we may squarely interpose the Woman Question - not only for its own claims to globality, but for the light it throws on this disjuncture.
Nodality and the Maternal Metaphor
This prominence, or nodality, is not surprising if we consider the centrality of women to life itself. To do so, one would admittedly have to accept Woman in her unique and most elevated role in relation to life; (the woman we have in mind here is the woman of everyday life, the ordinary soul-flesh-and-blood person, not the title to an abstraction) - and then it would be in her role as "mother" and in the understanding of maternity as the cradle and fountainhead of all life bridging any presumed divide between nature and culture/nurture. That this generic role is a symbiosis of the essence of both nature and nurture or nature and culture is the most elementary one associated with motherhood is grasped from the semantics of the Arabic term: u-m-m. The etymology points to the "source and wellspring", in this case of life. It is not surprising that the term "ummah" the arabic for "community" should have its affinities with "umm", given the realization that the life-world is intrinsically a "social" phenomenon and that the agents destined for its habitation are distinctly such. This too is something we learn from the linguistics as well as from the metaphysics of human nature: the stuff of which the "mother" and the social group are made being one and the same. It is namely that stuff of "insan", (generic man) that earthy human creature, whose denotation has its supplementary literal connotations of an all out "company seeking creature". With woman comes a special kind of companion seeking that preserves the life generating impulse in humanity and cradles the values and the medium which assure it its renewal as well as its potential qualities for good or for ill. This is also the meaning identified with mother as the source of life and with mothering as a role which lies at the heart of the process of engendering community - a theme and concept inspired by a tawhidi perspective and which is relegated to a separate inquiry.
The Moral Order and Human Agency: Woman's Role
The main point about human life and social life is that it is neither simply a natural order of creation nor one of a conventional process of evolution: At the heart of the natural and the conventional orders there is a moral order. In the case of human beings this order is predicated on the condition for human agency ie. on the freedom of choice. This presupposes the ability to choose to be one way rather than another, and to act in one sense rather than another etc. `Sense' itself assumes that there is an essential and ultimate value to life and to action such as to assure meaning and purpose to human life and action. Whatever conforms to such meaning and purpose is potentially moral. It is the weighting of a related system of scales and measures that calls forth a corresponding system of values in society and this becomes the vital yardstick for evaluating human life and action. The existing of such a system and the operation of such a mechanism supposes in turn a capacity for knowledge and for a discernment of what constitutes life, meaning and purpose, requisites which have their presuppositions. Once morality is admitted and the idea and the understanding of the moral order is acknowledged, an imperative and an ability to distinguish between right and wrong follows. The knowledge of the moral domain is grounded in a belief system. To know what is right one must have an idea of what is true. The belief system in its turn can either be grounded in faith and trust or in speculation and doubt. In the latter case we speak of cynicism as the end point of a range of attitudes which among other states of consciousness, spans those of uncertainty and indifference. In the former case of a knowledge grounded in faith and trust we speak of hope and belief.
Beyond the knowledge of the moral order, there remains the commitment to its realization ie. to living it or to bringing it about. This presupposes a will to act and to organize so as to bid the good and to forbid the evil and to elucidate and to lay the ground-work for a healthy order. It is precisely this task which constitutes and defines the essence of the "moral cause" round which all "believers" men and women of good faith and goodwill rally to fight a particular manifestation of oppression and to alleviate its consequences and strive to remove its causes. At the same time they will work to lay the foundations of the moral order as they perceive it to be depending on the sources of their perceptions and their focus. In the case of Muslims, believers men and women mentioned in the Quran, they will seek the parameters of that order such as it has been revealed to them by God through his Prophets and such as it has been inscribed in the Guidance and the Remembrance.
This is the perspective which constitutes the background to the tawhidic episteme and against which the "Woman Question" in general and that of women in Islam in particular should be raised. In this perspective, the burden of morality and the responsibility laid on human agency for the moral order is a shared burden among all the human race, irrespective of its created and intended diversity. According to this perception, women no less than men bear their burden of responsibility in as much as they share in the human agency which qualifies them for this charge. In this day and age when one takes for granted woman's "humanity" one can hardly comprehend the mind of an age when hairsplitting and defamatory heart-rending arguments took place in order to determine woman's nature and to verify whether she might not be of a subhuman species. Yet, one cannot be too complacent about the state of mankind's moral evolution. Such fundamental questions have little to do with man's presumed rationality, or with the level of intellectual apprehension attributed to an age or to a people. Throughout history down to our own times, the issue has continued to be one of ascertaining the status as much as the humanity of woman even if the parties to the debate have changed and even if the parameters of the discourse have extended to include debating the humanity of both men and women. It would do well therefore to realize that these are among the answers that retain a perennial relevance in the Qur'an. The fact that not only is woman's human status unequivocally settled there, but that her role as an active autonomous and accountable agent in the human common weal is unequivocally maintained can only be appreciated against this background of mortal vacillation.
Bonding and Solidarity: A Communal Ethos