[T]he Qur’an’s message of equality resonated in the teaching that women and men have been created from a single self and are each other’s guides who have the mutual obligation to enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong. But, then, there are those other verses that Muslims read as saying that men are better than women and their guardians and giving men the right to unfettered polygyny and even to beat a recalcitrant wife. To read the Qur’an in my youth was thus to be caught up in a seemingly irresolvable and agonizing dilemma of how to reconcile these two sets of verses not just with one another but also with a view of God as just, consistent, merciful, and above sexual partisanship.
Right. And the solution is to realize that the Qur’an is a book like other books, and that one is free to take from it what one admires and ignore or dispute the rest; that, indeed, one is free to ignore all of it. That is the only real solution, because anything short of that commits one to paltering with bad harmful unjust ideas.
It has taken the better part of my life to resolve this dilemma and it has involved learning (from the discipline of hermeneutics) that language–hence interpretation—is not fixed or transparent and that the meanings of a text change depending on who interprets it and how.
It’s too bad that it took so long, and that so much effort was wasted, but anyway, yes, of course. Language and interpretation are human, and therefore fallible and subject to change, and there is no requirement to take any of it as sacred and beyond criticism or alteration. That’s all there is to it – so there’s really no need to fret about how to interpret the Qur’an, or any other book.
Most Muslims, however, are unconvinced by this argument and it may be because viewing God’s speech (thus also God) as patriarchal allows the conservatives to justify male privilege…
Ya think? But at any rate, that is why all this hermeneutics is a waste of time and effort. Believe in a just god if you like, but don’t waste your energy trying to reconcile a centuries-old patriarchal book with your own view of sexual equality.
Pathetic that the New Statesman thinks it’s worth wasting time and effort on such an enterprise.