U.S. And Canadian Branches OF ISNA Quarrel Over "Feminist" Koran


A number of media reports have discussed the controversy arising out of a new translation of the Koran carried out by Iranian-born Sufi scholar Laleh Bakhtiar and which some are calling a “feminist” translation. Accrding to Bakhtiar the work, entitled The Sublime Quaran, was written from a woman’s point of view, is welcoming to non-Muslim readers, and was largely was uncontroversial with the exception of the passage in the Koran on how to deal with “disobedient” women ( chapter four, verse 34). As one newspaper reports:

Most translations of the Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be the word of God revealed to Muhammad, say the woman should first be admonished, then left alone in her bed and then beaten, albeit lightly. “When I got to chapter four I had to really look at this carefully,” says Bakhtiar, a Chicago Islamic scholar ….”It took a lot of research time to see what it means. “It’s a command in the Qur’an, an imperative and the point is the Prophet never did it, it meant something else to him,” continues Bakhtiar, 68, one of seven children of an American nurse and Iranian doctor. She concluded that the word idrib, which she found could have 26 different meanings, was best translated as “to go away” or “to leave,” not some form of “to beat.””Why choose the word to harm somebody, when that’s not what the Prophet did? He was a model for humanity.”

The report goes on to cite the head of the Canadian branch of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, who says he would consider banning the work on the grounds that Bakhtiar is not an acceptable scholar:

Meanwhile, the head of one of Canada’s leading Muslim organizations said he would not permit Bahktiar’s book, The Sublime Quran, to be sold in the bookstore of the Islamic Society of North America (Canada). “Our bookstore would not allow this kind of translation,” says Mohammad Ashraf, ISNA’s secretary general. “I will consider banning it.” His objection is not that Bakhtiar is a female scholar, but that she was not trained at an academic institution accredited in the Muslim world ‘“ he cites the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia as such a place. “This woman-friendly translation will be out of line and will not fly too far,” he says. “Women have been given a very good place in Islam.”

In a display of disunity uncommon with Brotherhood organizations, the female President of the U.S. branch of ISNA issued a statement asking the Secretary-General of ISNA/ Canada to retract his statement, asserting the” right of scholarly inquiry and intellectual discussion on issues related to Islam”:

ISNA supports and encourages honest debate and scholarship on issues affecting the Muslim community. In particular, we have long been concerned with the misuse of Islam to justify injustice towards women. ISNA held its first domestic violence conference over ten years ago, and has since that time, has held numerous training and education seminars to promote domestic harmony and prevent violence against women. It should be noted, in fact, that Dr. Bakhtiar’s interpretation of Qur’anic verse 4:34 is not new, although we do not deny that she arrived at her position independently. A similar interpretation was offered by Dr Abdul Hamid Abu Sulayman, Rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, in a 2003 special edition of Islamic Horizons, ISNA’s flagship publication. It is unfortunate that many Muslims are unaware of the depth and sophistication of Qur’anic exegesis. ISNA is committed to rectifying this lack of knowledge and expects our administrators to promote ISNA’s values and mission.

It is not clear why this dispute between the two branches of the same organization was made public and not handled internally.

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