Saturday, March 26, 2005

One of the many impressive people I’m fortunate to call a friend is Omar Haque. After majoring in neuroscience and religion at Brown, Omar went on to study Islamic philosophy at Harvard Divinity School and is now at Harvard Medical School.

The following is from an email Omar recently sent:
Does this mean that the Qur'an is "sexist"? Absolutely not. The Qur'an, for its time, was incredibly progressive in the reforms it supported in the lives of women within the tradition. (Wadud makes this argument when she points out that women were allowed to give testimony by the Qur'an, which was quite an advance from pre-Islamic Arabia.) Additionally, "sexist" is an anachronistic term, as we are using the perspective of 20th century standards.

The same is true for the scientific and cosmological worldview of the Qur'an. Epistemologically and metaphysically, the presuppositions the Qur'an upholds and the inflections it maintains all are scientifically true for the time in which it was revealed, the year 632. Now that the world has developed an entirely different cosmology and metaphysics -- different conceptions, that is, of time and space, descent and creation -- does this mean the Qur'an is to be thrown away? Absolutely not. The task Rahman, Ramadan, Wadud, and others all point to is the continuous need for reinterpretation, since in its human manifestation, it is always incomplete and partial and provisional.

I imagine these paragraphs may seem overly defensive when taken out of context. But I'm more interested in the gist of what Omar has to say than any specific arguments, and the gist is this: the Qur'an itself is neither inherently sexist nor antagonistic toward modern culture. Contrary to what a few diehards may believe, the Qur'an can in fact co-exist with (and even potentially support) a modern society, so long as a modern reading of the Qur'an is what Muslims themselves insist upon.


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