JUDITH REPPY: So welcome. It's really a pleasure to see so many people here for what's going to be a very interesting talk. I was reminding Nimat at the coffee hour-- the coffee-less hour for some of us, since so many came-- that we first met in 1973 when I began my professional career in the Peace Studies program. And she was a person who attended our talks and talked eloquently, and the only person, I have to say at that time, who could speak eloquently to the Middle East problem without thinking it was just about the US and Soviet Union.
And over the years, I have to say that I've benefited very much time her insights and information. And I really therefore feel quite honored to be introducing her today. Nimat received her bachelor's degree in sociology and philosophy at Damascus University and master's degree in educational psychology and cognitive development from Teachers' College, Columbia, and her Ph.D. in curriculum development, Islamic and Arabic studies, and adult and community education from Cornell University.
She has held prestigious fellowships beginning with the Glock Award from Cornell for 1988 dissertation on perceptions of the Islamic belief system, a visiting fellowship at Oxford's University Center for Islamic Studies in 1994, [INAUDIBLE] fellowships from the United Nations Development Program in 2002 and 1999, and a senior Fulbright scholarship to Syria in 1995, '97, and again in 2005 and 2006. She has a new book out, Women's Identity and Rethinking the Hadith, which just came out in October.
This book is a first step in a comprehensive attempt to contrast the Hadith writings with the Quran in order to uncover some of the unjust practices and Muslims concerning women and gender issues. Next month she will be speaking on these topics at the Commonwealth Club in California. We are really delighted to have her here today to speak to us on the issue of foundations of Muslim extremism and marginalization and violence against women. So welcome.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Well, as you can imagine, this is not only an academic pursuit. It's been a lifelong pursuit for me. And I thank you all for being here to share it. And especially would like to thank CAPE for inviting me again, the second time, five days after my first talk here, and especially for Cindy, for her all effort of organizing this talk and other talks at CAPE.
Needless to say, I was hoping to welcome a special attorney of matrimony from the University of Buffalo, who had the courage to start after Elizabeth Cady Stanton's sentiment of woman right. She started the movement for Muslim woman in America in the Seneca Falls Historical Society of Muslim Women. Unfortunately because of weather warning and high wind warning, she did not want to travel this morning because she has a court case later on.
However, I have made some copies of the declaration of equalities for Muslim women that are available with my husband [? Mavia ?] for those who might be interested later on. I will begin with a summary, outlining my theme and some definitions, which you probably picked up a sheet of that, the definitions.
As usual, I'll speak for only 45 minutes, maybe few minutes extra or less. And then I'd be happy to take some questions. Good morning, again, and a salaam alaikum, the greeting of Islam, may peace be with you all.
The prophet of Islam reported traditions or narratives have evolved significantly, affecting Muslims' lives and affecting women's lives enormously. Yet there has been less study focused on the contents of these reported narratives and their authority, even though centuries of scholarship was spent on the own authentication and trustworthiness of the narratives.
Unfortunately, most Muslims, regardless of their level of education, foil Islam in the image of their own belief that these narratives are divine, hence they literally and uncritically emulate them. Extremist Muslims, by extension, misuse and take these narratives out of their historical context in order to justify their own aberrant behavior.
Regardless of the extremists' claims, prophet Muhammad would be amazed at such perspectives of Islam and at the general Muslims' practice of it, especially when they attribute to him narratives that contradict the Quran as the primary source of Islam. By the way, I'm fulfilling my promise to Professor [? Blume ?] when he asked me question five years ago what's after the Quran if people misinterpreted the Quran. And I told him, look for my next book. This is what I'm doing now.
Although extremism is not unique to Muslims, I'm focusing today on Muslim extremists as the context of addressing women's marginalization and gender injustice. My new book, Women's Identity and Rethinking the Hadith, has been in the making for over 10 years and was not intended to directly deal with extremism. However, the conclusions of my book led me to realize the foundations of extremism.
Hence, I cannot in all conscience but to introduce my book today in the context of current events that are creating further confusion about Islam and Muslim women. In the book, I analyze the reported narratives attributed to the prophet that were documented centuries ago under the rubric Hadith. That's in the title of my book. By synthesizing contrast and contrasting the content of these narratives with the Quran, I'm uncovering some of the unjust practices by Muslims concerning women and gender issues.
Let me first explain the difference between Islam and Muslims on the one hand and between Quran and Hadith on the other. Please consult the definition sheet as well. Islam as an action-oriented religial, moral, rational world view that advocates justice, believing in Islam is the conscientious acceptance of its central principle, the one deity as the source of value and knowledge with justice as the goal.
Without understanding the meaning of oneness of deity, [NON-ENGLISH] in Arabic, individual believer cannot practices it fully. Since such understanding requires an egalitarian interpretation of the text, only Quranic Shariah, with a capital S, restores the religial, moral authority of interpretation to each individual Muslim, as stated in chapter 45, verse 18 of the Quran.
As the goal of Islam, justice or [NON-ENGLISH] in Arabic also means that each individual is morally bound to act justly, according to Quranic guidance, even against oneself. Muslims, on the other hand, are individuals who proclaim to adhere to the guidance of Islam, yet they do not necessarily represent Islam in its totality. That is because the spirit of believing in one deity and instituting justice requires deeper understanding of the Quran, void of the different interpretations and representations.
Quran as the primary and divine source is the only miracle of Islam. It was collected in standard [? kabi ?] during the first decade after the death of the messenger Muhammad, who dictated the revelations to a scribe as he was receiving them. This standard [? kabi ?] is the only complete document representing the Quran for the past 14 centuries without any change.
Unfortunately again, in the second and third century of Islam-- that is more than 1,000 years ago-- Muslim jurists, the overwhelming majority of whom were men, made the reported narratives as an authoritative source of legislation. By doing so, they tended to ignore some of the Quranic principles, particularity its emphasis on individual moral right and responsibility to understand the Quran in order to effect justice.
In a sense, these jurists regarded the Quran as if it is incomplete and in need of the elaboration of specification of the reported narratives. They implied that divine texts need to be completed and confronted by special human source, which is really against the concept of one deity. Sadly, most Orientalists use these Muslim views of the Quran as representing Islam in its totality. That's part of the problem.
As a result of such views, Hadith, or the collective literature of the prophetic narratives, or reported narratives, became the second source that affect Muslim lives. Whether or not the content of these narratives is corroborated by the Quran, the majority of Muslims tend to use them, sometimes more often than the Quran. This is the core problem that I'm addressing in my book.
My objective is to explain where gender injustice is taking place in Muslim societies. It is especially so, because male orthodoxy excludes women from participating in shaping and developing Islamic thought, using these narratives as evidence before the Quran. Extremists in their claim of defending Islam against Western imperialism or bad governance, further misuse Hadith, especially as the basis to justify their sexual violence against women.
I must reiterate here that I am neither discrediting the reported Hadith nor refuting its center of values and importance for Muslim thought and life. Rather, I want to demystify the divine halo that has been cast over Hadith literature and that has caused injustices, especially to the Muslim woman.
That is, Muslim in general, Muslims in general, use Hadith as a means to defend their biased interpretation of the Quran. Most striking is the prevention of women leadership because they claim that there was no precedent in the Hadith.
The rest of my presentation will address other examples to help you appreciate and understand the magnitude of this problem and its consequent results. Is it OK? My main argument is that that the human rights and human development of Muslim women will not progress in a meaningful and sustainable manner until the Hadith is the examined in a new approach from within the Islamic framework, and unless we shift the discourse in understanding Islam from a dogmatic religious law to an egalitarian religial, moral, rational world view. I further argue that this re-examination requires the involvement of women to affirm their authority in exegetical, spiritual, and practical leadership within Muslim societies.
Hence, I encourage Muslim women to stand up for the rights, to effect change in understanding the role of Hadith in their lives, and to have the moral courage to demand a change in Muslims' understanding of the Quran in its historical totality and to rethink the Hadith in space and time. This is the genesis of my book and the summary of my presentation. Now I will detail some aspects.
It is indeed sad time and very painful, what's happening in Muslim societies, particularly regarding women. By addressing the following three themes, I hope to explain why we are facing a major crisis in understanding Islam and the current upheaval in Muslim societies.
These things are, first, the misuse of Islamic sources and gendering the world's interpretation of Islam. Second, why more extremist group are emerging now? Is it only recent phenomena? And third, why violence is prevalent in most Muslim societies and especially by extremists?
Sad as they may be, recent decades of extremism has been with us for centuries. More problematic is that such extremism has not been addressed, mainly because Muslims' sensitivities, and especially because extremist actions were mostly against women. I will explain these sensitivities when I conclude by making some suggestions as to where we go from here.
So what do I mean by the misuse of Islamic sources and gendering the worst interpretation of Islam? And why do we need to understand Islam as we discuss foundations of extremism, since we know that extremists' motives are not religious, rather, mainly political ones. The reality of Muslim worldwide is that Islam and its values often cannot be divorced from all aspects of life, contrary to Western expectations that gender, justice, and democratic government of Muslim societies can only come about through disassociation from religion or through the adoption of secular Western perspectives.
Furthermore, many Muslim women live in Muslim majority societies where the instrument of legal governance is often a blend of what is erroneously known as shariah law, with a small s, that imposes others' interpretations, along with legal systems left behind by colonial powers or adapted by previous Muslim administration in imperial administrations.
I elaborate, the Quran, in the Arabic language, was documented in writing during its revelation to the messenger Muhammad. Obviously, as a text, the Quran needs to be applied in time and space. Hence, during the early establishment of the Muslim community, prophet Muhammad developed his own reflections and strategies to apply the Quran.
Yet he emphatically forbade his companions from quoting him and documenting in writing any of his reflections, be it in words or actions, because naturally, he did not want Muslims to use his reflections instead of the Quran. Since Quranic authority is primarily a moral guide, it also requires individual free will to accept its world view. This free will is a primary condition to understanding the Quran in an intimate, different relation to its content. Hence, it's a prerequisite to fully practice it.
Yet when early Muslim jurists also questioned women's legal standing as witnesses and claimed that the value of a woman's witnessing was one half of that of a man, they implied something other than the Quran. They generalized from a specific Quranic verse, in chapter two, verse 282, that addressed conditions of witnessing and monetary loans. They applied that specific verse to witnessing in general.
Therefore, each individual Muslim woman needs and should read the Quran, that which I called for in my 2004 book, Women's Identity, the Quran: A New Reading. Each woman also needs, and should rethink Hadith, that which I'm calling for in this new book. The reason is that Hadith is still being misused as a primary source for applying the Quran, even when some of its contents are not corroborated by the Quran.
In other words, Hadith authority was elevated to the level of the only divine source of Islam, the Quran. Needless to say, as Islam spread to other societies beyond Arabia and became, because of local strife and conflict, some male interpreters began collecting the orally reported narratives and putting them in writing about 200 years after the prophet's death.
These reports were made into the canon of the prophet traditions, and later gathered into the literature of Hadith. Despite the fact that more than one third of these narratives were reported on the authority of female companions, these companions were largely absent from the process of authenticating and documenting these narratives in writing.
This absence added to the marginalization of women and allowed for further extremism in the name of orthodoxy. Hence, I also argue that the misuse and abuse of Hadith is the main reason hampering Quranic gender justice in its broadest sense. For example, the traditional and prevailing Muslim emphasis on the dependent, but segregated women contradicts the Quranic-centric principle and its goal.
Consequently, the three related principles-- trusteeship, leadership, and equilibrated action were also misrepresented. What happens through artistry is that oneness of deity as the central principle of Islam was transformed from meaning the unity of God and humanity into blind obedience and habitual worship.
Justice as the goal of Islam was transformed to harsh rules to punish the contesting women, as if contestation means fornication. Trusteeship, or [NON-ENGLISH] in Arabic, being the human stewardship on Earth, has been reserved for the male political hires or caliphs and as the only means to establish legal rules, the so-called sharia with the small s, confusing these rules with Quranic Sharia, capital S. That means guidance.
Also, leadership and prayer, or imama, was confined to male leadership in general and equilibrium and demeanor and action, or [NON-ENGLISH] in Arabic became passive submission, instead of the early criteria that differentiates individuals and their ability to balance autonomous agency with communal good, according to Quranic guidance, in chapter 49, verse 12.
The present realities of the majority of the approximately 900 million Muslim women subjects that they are not considered trusteeship of themselves and/or for their children, nor fit to witness the injustices committed in the name of Islam. That is because women are still considered minors, like their children, or sexually vulnerable, hence need "protection," quote, unquote.
Meanwhile, non-Muslims emphasize developing an emancipated Muslim woman who identifies with cultural parameters other than her own. Otherwise she will be considered a conformist and oppressed. Therefore, gendering and reinventing the worst interpretation of Islam is most troubling, because the problem is the misuse of the narratives attributed to the prophets as they were canonized and institutionalized. Instead of being used as strategies to apply the Quran in time and space, these canonized narratives became the foundations of orthodox patriarchy, and with interference of outside forces, they were taken out of their historical context to justify extremism.
In my book, I synthesize the problems generated from the act of documenting in writing the orally transmitted narratives, as Muslims became more and more rigid about using these narratives without corroborating them with the Quran, or by the Quran, or by making these narratives as the primary source instead of the Quran. As a result, the ideal Islamic social structure was hardly realized in practice, mainly because most Muslims still aspire to precedent history and familial and tribal tradition or affiliation.
Hence, neither sociological theories nor political science or legal [? announces ?] can fully explain the current crisis in understanding Islam, especially the core problem that Muslim women face, that is, their absence and developing and shaping Islamic thought. Furthermore, with that re-reading the Quran and rethinking the Hadith authority, tribal and antiquated practices continue to cause consequences, exemplified in the following three.
The first consequence is complete marginalization of women, as they rarely were consulted in selecting the premises that formed the foundations of the sciences of Hadith or the principles of jurisprudence, particularly concerning issues related to participation in public sphere, such as trusteeship, leadership, and legal testimony or witnessing. Worse yet, women did not participate in discussing issues related to personal status code, marriage and divorce, child custody and guardianship, and inheritance and ownership.
The second consequence is that the legal rulings that were generated, or the so-called sharia with the small s, concerning gender and women, were most harsh, often contradicting other principles in the Quran. Most pronounced is the example of leadership. When early Muslim jurists accepted some of the female narratives, they might have delineated the tribal particularism norm of leadership over looking Quranic basic change in social relations from the tribal to the family as the center.
They limited the women's role only to being a mother, a sister, wife, daughter, or a slave, often justifying such limitations with the claim of protecting, quote unquote, "women's modesty." The third consequence is that Hadith became as authoritative as the Quran, even when in some contexts do not corroborate by the Quran or is in conflict with it.
So one might ask, what good may come from reading the Quran everything in the Hadith now? My answer is, a Muslim woman, and a man for that matter, should do so because her identity has mostly been shaped by Hadith as invoked mainly by men who may or may not have deciphered the difference and the relationship between the Hadith authenticity and its authority. These are two different things. Some of these men also selectively read some Quranic verses out of their social historical context.
For example, although the Quran encouraged abolition and eventually prohibited slavery, the pre-Islamic norms of sexual enslavement of woman affected the general attitude towards women, as if they were property of their male household or tribe. Such attitude resulted in interpretations that segregated free women, in the name of protecting their honor, or protecting them from enslavement. These norms are further misused to justify the horrible treatment of women during the past few years by different extremist groups.
Why more extremist groups are emerging now? Is it only a recent phenomenon? That answer is no, it is not a recent phenomena. I will address two major reasons behind that. The first reason is that colonial power allowed the use of different interpretations of Islamic sources to be institutionalized. And with the help of Muslim fundamental, male scholars and orientalists, erroneously called such interpretations shariah, with a small s, or Islamic law. Human interpretations of the Quran cannot exhaust the possible meaning of a verse.
And institutionalized literary interpretations lead to oppression and sectarian tension. For example, the well-meaning past archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, suggested in 2008 that British lawmakers should accommodate, quote, "some aspects of Muslim law." He made a gross miscalculation, because his suggestions represent dire implications, not only for England, but for Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe.
Obviously, knowingly or not, the archbishop was reinforcing the British colonial administration ruling in India when, in order to silence the conservative leaders, allow have different religious groups in the subcontinent to institutionalize their customary personal status code as the legal code for their cultural or religious population.
The archbishop basically confused Quranic Shariah, with a capital S, with the rules derived by jurists. Such confusion is creating further chaos and confusion in Western courts today with regard to Muslims who want to apply these unjust codes indiscriminately, including the malpractice of modesty.
The second reason is that neither contemporary superpower nor orientalist scholars realize that until the existing attitude and personal status code are changed, no sustainability change would take place in governing Muslim societies. Be it democratic or theocratic government, the use of power will not help emancipate Muslim woman nor enlighten the entire Muslim population against extremism. Military power never changed attitude, hence it will not change patriarchy and dictatorship, nor eliminate extremism.
Therefore, the challenge for Muslim women and her drive for autonomous authority is to ask, quote, "What premises are being brought toward the process of democratization or rethinking Islamic sources, and how these premises are or not thereof restructuring the mainstream jurisprudence process, as well as the governing policies in Muslim societies."
I repeat here something I brought before, that one of the basic problems within the current globalization of democracy movement is the absence of Muslim woman in shaping development Islamic thought. As a result, I'm afraid to say that there is no hope that Muslim women reading the Quran, reading the Hadith will help in the short run.
Because the problem is not with the texts, but with the representation of Islam and Muslim women. In other words, the pathetic conditions for the majority of these women require a change in perception, attitude, and [INAUDIBLE], as stated in the Quran, chapter 13 verse 11. "God will not change what's in people until they change what is in themselves."
So why violence is prevalent in most Muslim societies? Violence stems from ignorance of the fundamentals of the faith, combined by different actors flaming of emotions and baseless beliefs. Hence, I suggest the following four steps to modify the situation, if not remedy as a whole.
The first step is massive and deeper education on the Quran, emphasizing that Quran guidelines are time and space sensitive, and embracing multiple points of view and differences. A verse of the Quran must be read within the context of other verses surrounded and in concert with the ideas and values articulated in the Quran as a whole.
For example, Prophet Muhammad designed a special day for women to vote as to whether or not they accept or reject his spiritual and political leadership, because free choice was fundamental to accepting the message of Islam. That is, as an individual, women primary identity is with Islam and she becomes legally bound by guidance of Islam only after she ethically and consciously chooses its message in its totality, including the acceptance of Muhammad as the messenger.
Prophet Muhammad wanted to do emphasize the woman's moral autonomy. Yet as far as we know from historical documents and books, the prophet did not ask any of the closest female companions to lead the congregation in prayer in the mosque while he was on his deathbed. This is so perhaps because he understood the patriarchal tribal attitude of the time, though he did ask woman to read prayer with males on other occasions.
Yes, that practice we cannot follow literally because he understood the patriarchal attitude of the time. But it does not mean that we should imitate such action now, as most Muslims believe and do. Muslims interpret such action as precedent to be followed, regardless of time and space. And in addition, they misinterpret the prophet's designation of special day for women's voting as if it meant segregating the two sexes. This misrepresentation contradicts the Quran consistent directions that address both men and women with the goal of gender justice.
The second step is that we should include all members of society in the education and decision-making process. We especially should include the woman, because she is individually responsible and has the Quranic given right to learn, to know, and to think for herself and by herself. For example, the affirmation of [NON-ENGLISH]. The word [NON-ENGLISH] in Arabic means a shawl or a head cover. That was affirmed in the Quran, but it does not mean making it an obligation.
Rather, it was accepted by society that has taken the practice before Islam. Muslims, on the other hand, often use too weak narratives on the authority of the prophet's wife to emphasize an extreme seclusion of woman behind hijab. You've heard that word a lot. Hijab in Arabic means "curtain." And that verse refers to addressing the wives of the prophet from behind the curtain.
Has nothing to do with a head cover. Yet it was confused with the head cover and misleading when they called the head cover hijab, even though neither of those narratives justify the recent wearing of the face cover. More specifically, Quranic verser concerning the [NON-ENGLISH] is part of the overall guidance concerning modesty for both men and women, as tasted in chapter 24 verses 30 to 31.
The third step is to rethink Quran and Hadith guidelines within the Islamic world view, not within orientalist perspectives, neither with the human rights framework alone, nor within the [? precedence ?] reflections of the prophet or any other prominent scholar, including myself. Given what extremist Muslim men are doing now, with the innocent women of different ethnic or religious sectarian or ideological group is to realize that the critical action now is more than just a moral courage to rethink these interpretations.
It becomes our ability to reject these interpretations and uncover how false they are, because extremists rely on them. Hence, I also question most contemporary Muslims' understanding of the message of the Quran, particularly those who claim to be the learned scholars of Islam or leaders in Muslim societies and communities.
I question these understanding just as much as I question the motives and strategies of the so-called experts on Islam or experts on Middle East policies, as well as the political leaders who only think of military force as a solution. The final step, the fourth and the final step for today, is to develop strategies to overcome Muslim sensitivities without creating friction or ensuing violence, such as to stop asking people and nations to be in our image, the image of our Western societies. We are not protecting the best image anyway.
To conclude, where do we go from here? My concluding argument is that unless the Muslim woman realizes the confused understanding of Islam, of Islam's stance on women's rights and gender justice, she will not be able to change the perceptions of the female as secondary, dependent, or owned property of the male household or tribe, nor will the individual woman be able to regain her given rights in the Quran.
I should emphasize here that we cannot and should not limit our interpretation and analysis of gender or other issues by using the same tools that were available to early interpreters and jurists. Only by synthesizing these narratives of the prophet or reported narratives of the prophet in [? parallel ?] to Quranic verses that I was able to discern where the narratives and their consequent applications in most Muslim personal status code and customary practices in most Muslim societies contradicted the Quran. These findings will help us ultimately to understand where injustice toward gender and women may have come from, and how to eliminate or at least put hold on applying them.
Unfortunately, neither the West nor the Muslim male scholars have effectively used acted to stop the breach of human dignity and of Quranic mandate when the political and civil crisis, especially in Syria and Iraq, unfolded. That is because they are still asking the wrong question.
Instead of only asking, quote, "how to stop those extremists through military intervention" end of quote, we must also be asking, what are the roots of extremist behavior, and how to reject those misleading interpretations of Islam that are being misused to justify such abhorrent actions as the enslavement of women?
As long as Muslims continue to believe that Islam is a routine practice of rituals and of particular interpretation, with the assumption that such interpretation should be accepted and applied, I'm sad to say that the possibility of making a major shift in understanding the message of the Quran and in applying it justly is very, very slim. Yet the struggle will continue, especially by Muslim women. I, for one, like other women scholar-activists who identify with Islam, have struggled to transform idealism into pragmatic reforms within the Islamic framework.
I promise that I will continue this struggle, with my main source of inspiration being the Quran. The American Muslim scholar-activist Amina Wadud, who in 2005 had the moral courage to lead men and women in a congregational prayer stated, in response to reactionary, popular uproar, quote, "It is clear to me that the Quran aimed to erase all notions of woman as subservient, second class citizens," end of quote. And thank you for listening.
Ms. Lambert asked-- she said it is fascinating, however, most of you came to hear about fundamentalism. Then, regardless whether that statement applies to everyone or not, I would like to say to Leslie, thank you for your question, because this is exactly the heart of the problem. We only think of fundamentalism. We don't think of the totality of what fundamentalism or fundamentalist are claiming.
So that's why I wanted to address the root where fundamentalism came from. And as we know, fundamentalism belongs to every creed, whether religious or nonreligious. And I emphasized at the beginning that I'm specifically addressing Muslim extremists in contemporary issues, current events, because this is the most troubling issue that the whole world is addressing, but from the wrong end. And I wanted to emphasize that. Yes, June.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] think about marginalized, extremist Islamic groups. But isn't the fundamental problem like the institutionalized extremists like Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, which is being exported and taken advantage by these groups? And how can one make progress in the face of that?
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Yes. Professor [? Nasralla ?] brought another important example, question. Because fundamentalism or extremism now came mainly or partially, I would say, from the interpretation of Islam by certain groups in Saudi Arabia, who claim to be the early interpretation of Islam and should apply everywhere.
Those extreme interpretations, or what you may call fundamental interpretation, literal interpretation of the Quran and the prophet's extraditions are part of the problem. I must add that unfortunately yes, Saudi Arabia is one big part in this current problem. Because not only they are exporting these ideas and specific interpretations of Islam, but because they are feeding and sending those extremists outside and financing them.
Whether we believe it or not, they are financing them everywhere, in the Middle East, in Africa, and we need to stop that. The US policymakers keep talk about Saudi as our partners in fighting extremism. But they are not stopping. They're financing them. And indirectly, the US is shipping arms that is paid for by Saudi Arabia to those regions, that we should demand our legislators to make sure that that does not happen anymore. Yes, Peter?
AUDIENCE: Thank you for your talk. I wanted to challenge your statement about there have always been extremists in Islam. In some sense, that's certainly correct. But I think it can also be very dangerous to make such a bold statement. Let me point out, certainly in early Islam you had [INAUDIBLE]. And then in the 18th century you have the Wahhabis, who were again forcibly suppressed, this time by the Ottoman state.
And as the previous questioner said, much of the current extremism stems in its ideological roots from Wahhabism, which is an 18th century phenomenon. A point of evidence that I always like to think of when we talk about extremist in the Islamic world, is think about the gigantic Buddhist statues in Afghanistan 15 years ago that were destroyed by the Taliban. Think about very recent news about Palmyra being destroyed by ISIS. Think about the Sufi shrines, that is the tombs of Sufi saints, who have been destroyed all over the Islamic world, in Pakistan, India, Timbuktu. This is all very recent, and these are structures that were there for hundreds, hundreds of years. They were untouched, which suggests that this kind of extremism is really very recent, or at least has taken on a pitch which is very recent indeed.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Peter, by the way, he just wrote a book about the wisdom of Sufism. And I appreciate your question. Let me repeat it an a very brief way, that he disputes my claim that extremism has been in for many centuries within the Muslim societies. And I always would like you, please, everyone, distinguish between Islam, Islamic, and Muslim.
Because Muslim is the individual person who claims to adhere to the religion of Islam. There is no extremism in Islam itself. There is extremism by Muslims. Let me be very clear about that, please. Now, the answer is the following. Yes, there are many events, as you stated, with the destruction of statues or destruction of civilized heritage.
And the enslavement of women are happening out of context of our their thinking in the 21st century. However, when they were happening, whether you mentioned the group what's called [NON-ENGLISH], those who refused to cooperate with certain political governance in the early centuries of Islam. And they were prosecuted because they had a different philosophy. That was an extremist behavior, I call it.
So it started then. To state that only one interpretation is the interpretation for all Muslim is the basis of extremism. Maybe it didn't come in certain implications, as we see now. But certainly is against the basic principle of Islam that is egalitarian, that has to be interpreted in space and time. And we have to keep that in mind.
Even my interpretation now, I dare not dictated or-- I ask anybody to apply, because I will be contradicting the basic principle of the Quran, that each individual has the right as in responsibile to read and re-read the Quran and understand it in more intimate way to be able to apply it.
Now, somebody will tell me, how about the 90% illiterate people in the Muslim world? And I say literacy is not the issue, because we know that most of these people have memorized some verses of the Quran. And that's what they teach in certain schools, only to memorize. That's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about understanding the basic fundamental meaning. Islam is very simple-- acceptance of the unity of God and humanity and act justly. Period. Everything else is an addition. If we cannot make that individual understand that, then we failed our education. I'm sorry, I will not take a follow-up, because she wants--
JUDITH REPPY: Unfortunately we've reached the end of the time, but unfortunately Nimat is right here at Cornell, and you can ask her questions and send her things.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: May I take one more question?
JUDITH REPPY: No, not really.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Yes? No, she doesn't want me to. I will be happy to answer later.
JUDITH REPPY: It's also a special day for Nimat. It is her birthday.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Oh, no.
JUDITH REPPY: But we want to wish you a happy birthday and many more. And on behalf of CAPE, we thank you very much for a wonderful talk.
NIMAT H. BARAZANGI: Thank you. Thank you very much.
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In a lecture to the Cornell Association of Professors Emeriti (CAPE) Nov. 19, 2015, research fellow Nimat Hafez Barazangi argues that Muslim women issues are symptoms of the widespread crisis in understanding Islam, and that these issues, being the consequences of extremism on all fronts, are the active drive to understand the foundations of Muslim extremism. To better understand this crisis, she says, we need a radical shift in discourse to be able to analyze the mind-set of these extremist Muslims, the majority of whom are males.
Barazangi is the author of "Women’s Identity and Rethinking the Hadith."