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Amina Wadud: The Nature of Authority

IE 316 (Spring 2015)

Woman, Islam and Interpretation

Professor Lamptly

T.A. Bashir

“.., they are your garments and you are their garments…”
Qur’an 2: 187

Amina Wadud received world wide recognition for two landmark books focusing on

what is defined as the gender jihad where she methodically dismantle many of the

so-called male entitlements and dictatorial privileges based upon an anatomical

structure. These behaviors, surprisingly, have not been explored as a manifestation

of shirk (or setting up partners with God if the message of the Quran is equality and

justice)1, instead of being explored theologically are explored via the Qur’an and

intertextual analysis that constructs a strong platform for what I would call a

“common-sense approach’ to exploring some of the universal used to deny co-

religionist their human rights.

With the aforementioned shirk and the denial of basic human rights one wonders

how did we reach this point in the name of religion and it is almost incumbent that

we need to trace back and explore where or how could these issues become

commonplace. Wadud in her analysis deconstruct much of the faulty logic that

emanated from the so-called “Classical Islam” (where misogynistic men mapped out

the barriers and boundaries to Islam and packed it in the language of religiosity that

misdirect the people, and without the input of women) and one could only think if

this had been a man making the critique, more than likely, it would have been much

harsher, similar to some of the other critiques she endured from men, some were

friends and colleagues. Some of these critiques came after the publishing of her

books and it appears to have been most thunderous after she delivered the sermon.

Qur’an 41:40-43.

This point to some of the early confrontations that she had surrounding her earlier

advocacy works around blatant racism in Islam2, especially from immigrant

Muslims who arrive on the shores of the U.S. with pre-conceived notions about

Black people in their woefully ignorant attempt to partner-up with White people.

Some of that misconception was put to rest after 911 where they were repeatedly

and consistently attacked for being Muslims. Miraculously, many immigrant

masjids opened up their doors to African Americans and their security teams and

now we heard “that color didn’t make any difference in Islam”. We knew Wadud

for her speeches and advocacy against racism and speaking up for AIDS victims

when it was not popular to do so. Many of the people who revere her collapsed their

admiration of her on one issue of her advocacy that which was selfishly important to

them and failed to see the dimensions of the total person. This is one of Du bois3

arguments of how Blacks are pushed into narratives, one black and the other

American, and that they are recognized when that serves the purposes of the

dominant culture that constantly heaps pain and scorn upon them while abusing


How ironic that some of her most vociferous opponents were immigrant men whose

main claim was that she lacked the authority to do what she did. The verbal and

physical threats continued to roll in and were well documented and to many

Americans who viewed these responses it set up the discourse that Islam is a violent

religion and that that violence is frequently directed to its women and perhaps she

was acting out because of the treatment she received from her man; in addition a

film depicted the pure hatred directed toward her because her name was out there

and provided a target to throw dangers act. Unfortunately, many of us, African

American men, didn’t find out about this event until the week it was scheduled to

take place perhaps a security precaution, we could’ve, at least, sent a contingent to

insure protection for the sister due to the many threats she had. As it turned-out, it

was unnecessary. There was no real reach out to the community as a whole, some

women knew about it we found out later. Even though we were unaware of the

issues she was confronting, when made aware we thought of it as just a ‘woman

leading Jummah prayers’ that would of appeared strange to us because our

community has some many overwhelming social, economically, and health

problems4 that the prayer would not have been prioritized. If there were a concrete

discussion of the issues perhaps it would have been more acceptable. I doubt that it

would because we were lost in our own issues and would have not drawn the dots

between justice and equality because a Muslimah was leading a mixed-gender

prayer. It would have been viewed as an invasion of Western Feminism with its

atheistic themes; anti religion and pro sexual immorality; and a host of other

imagined evils associated with western secularism and some post colonial/ghetto

frustrations. Busy learning and memorizing conjugation of Arabic verbs, surahs,

exegesis, tafsir and a host of other things, while turning a blind eye to the shouting

out for equality by women, that kept us in another world where we looked

backwards, to dead scholars in different social contexts, and wishfully forward to

poorly educated present khatibs for misdirection as oppose to forward for a


promised day of liberation from the excess baggage that we as Muslims carried at

this time.

The push back in NYC to anything that violated the script of ‘Orthodox Islam’ was

strong; masjids were burned or bombed for advocating sexual orientations that

were unorthodox (anything other than heterosexual). Amina Wadud, an African

American woman, dared to stand up and give a khutbah at the urging of a group of

‘racist immigrants’ didn’t play well at all, due to the fact that the scholars were

unable to answer the questions of theodicy5 (Black peoples continued pain and abuse

in America)6 when it came to Black people and their continued suffering, we rallied

around Jones’ question: “Is God a White Racist?”7 With no satisfactory answer our

search continued. James Cone, the Christian and Hakeem Jackson, the Muslim,

attempted to make sense of it. Cone referred to it as the “theological question of the

century” and accused other Christians of being the ‘anti-Christ’ for White

Christians refusal to deal with the “poor and oppressed co-religionists” as Jesus did

and the crimes perpetrated against Black people by White Supremacy. Jackson

attempted to deal with it through a lectures/books8 that specified the dual

relationship that Muslims have with Allah, one where humankind could not change

what Allah has decreed and the other option where humankind had the opportunity

to change what had been manifested. I don’t know of any correlation of this

theological aspect in Christianity. Both of these theorists fell short because their

didn’t address the historical and patriarchal trajectories perpetrated by androgenic

misinterpretations of the sacred text of all three Abrahamic faiths and the continued

genuflecting at the alter of patriarchy. Jackson in his book,” Islam and the

Blackamerican” continues the narrative of the Classical Commentators of excluding

women from the conversation. On page 129 of “Islam & The problem of Black

Suffering, he uses the term “balkafa (an abbreviation of bi laa kayf) being the

practice of abstaining from asking “how” and imrar being the cognate principle of

“passing scriptural data on to posterity just as it had been received (imraruha kama

ja’at) that, without resorting to speculative vindications”. He closes by saying…”

These principles are best understood, as refleting not a fideistic commitment to

unthinking per se but a recognition that aspects of God’s knowledge of God, as

imparted in God’s revelation, may lie beyond the frontiers of human knowledge”.

We state that God gives knowledge to whom He pleases and if a people don’t love

Him, with the absence of shirk, He can raise another people who will. The test of a

liberation theology, in my opinion, is its application across different pockets of

oppression and the Feminist Theology reaches that level of assessment, a point due

to brevity of this paper I cannot address here but I question why the subtle blockage

of different forms of investigations and interpretations on stated objectives of

equality and justice persists in a disguised sophistry.

The author Bell Hooks9 discusses the interconnectedness of racism and sexism and

the polemics of subliminal images that accentuate and attached to the sexism of

Black Men that remained unaddressed by the academics/theologian class and often

presented itself in their ignoring of a major issue that remains ignored in many so-

called theologies: racist subliminal images that are preserved for Black women as

well as Black men; how did that imagery play out in the delivery of her khutbah

(sermon) to other Muslims?

Due to the endless pain and turmoil, Black theodicy, that has been the lot of that

search for answers of African American Muslims specifically, and all African

Americans in general, one is hard pressed to make sense of why this unending

nightmare continues and the stress of knowing that at any moment you may be

killed even by people whose job it is to protect you. In Islam, it is problematic that a

Black woman would address patriarchy in Islam and not address racial injustice,

that Wadud did, once again skewed her in terms of directionality, as a Black women

confronted a double-barrel of oppression with brutal sexism and racism tensions

that is part of the existence of African Americans’ lives in America and few care

understand it.

More interesting is that when people discuss her or her personage they choose or

cherry-pick that part of her advocacy that many Black Muslim women feel that she

was exploited for, while ignoring her powerful voice on race (we await her study into

this area) or advocacy for the victims of AIDS/HIV10 which decimated many

communities. In fact her strong advocacy for AIDS victims is rarely mentioned, in

the same breath as her advocacy against patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an in

her quest for readings of justice and equality, an old biased theme in the ‘hood’

because it seldom happens. In fact her advocacy in these areas are not reported and

we would see her, if we didn’t know any better, as a one dimensional Muslim

Feminist zealot, which is not a bad thing with inside itself and definitely needed, but

who makes the decisions or have the authority to showcase one of her attributes to

the dismissal of others, why was she given short notice that she would lead this

demonstration of equality1112 why were the male organizers of the event coolly

indifferent to her conjuring up images of the abuse of African American women in

historical interactions with dominant male figures previously.

Her books sold over the world; however, I know that one would need a study guide

or a teacher to exude many of the concepts that she wrestle with that are not that

obvious on the surface. I recalled the same kind of miscasting in some ways

happened for Malcolm X and we have a perception, shaped by an authoritive voice

to suit the needs of others as oppose to what their intentions were.

Her confronting issues of authority in her books, advocacies and her sermons are all

indicative of her motivation for justice from the inspiration she received from Allah

and serves as a trope for the stories we read in the Qur’an of others’ quest for

justice and how their mission was received by the multitude, who generally saw the

mission as unacceptable and strange. A deeper message is presented with Wadud’s

work for people of faith is that authority must be intrepidly challenged or there will

be little change and oppression, that denies justice and equality, will remain

dominant and if you are able to walk away from the front lines for the struggle with

your sanity intact and no rancor for those you hope to share some light with into

their lives your mission has been accomplished. What remains now is a credible

response from Muslim men to the milestones of justice that she planted.