Portfolio Review 

Gili Fleekop

Professor Albert

Reading the Qur’an

5 December 2017

Portfolio Review

I think over the course of the semester I have really benefitted from writing on my blog since it gave me an opportunity to reflect and engage with the course readings. I realized that when I read the readings for this class (and many other classes as well), I would always be left with so many follow-up questions. These questions varied from wondering about the reading’s meanings, implications, and contexts, to who the author was, what tools they were using, and what sources they referenced. With so many ideas left to unpack, many times I felt overwhelmed and confused by all of my thoughts and questions. My blog gave me the space and the platform to play with these questions and chew on them rather than just let them disappear and go unnoticed. I was able to formulate some of my thoughts more clearly and even articulate them into well-thought-out questions. I believe that I did a thorough job at reading texts closely and engaging with them in an appropriate manner on my blog. I think that moving forward, I want to use this writing portfolio space to continue uploading my thoughts, questions, and explorations about issues around me. Through the use of this space in Reading the Qur’an, Religion and Literature, and Monotheism, I have truly understood the value of writing about the pieces I was reading in the class. As I look back at my writing over the years (and even over the course of this semester), I am slowly realizing how my process of writing, thinking, and analyzing has changed and evolved. I still have a lot of questions just like I did when I was a first year (keep in mind I did take a 300 level Philosophy course as a freshman!). But over the years, these questions have taken different forms. I am less concerned with understanding every little detail of an article or a theory, and more concerned with how the piece fits into my understanding of the world. I tend to ask more questions about the implications prevalent. Such as implications about how the scholar views and understands the world, and how a specific work will speak in conversation with other existing work in the field. I have learned that it is questions like these that have more interesting answers.

On my blog you will see questions such as:  If all interpretation is just merely an attempt, then why do it? How would communities of Muslims decide how they would structure their lives based off the Qur’an without any final interpretations? Don’t we need interpretations to dictate certain things? How can Ai’sha, the “Mother of the Believers”, a central figure in Islam, refuse to praise the person most important in the religion (Muhammed)? 

I have come to the conclusion that sometimes we don’t need to answer every question. Many times it’s more valuable to continue asking questions and diving deeper into our questioning and curiosity. And thanks to this class and this portfolio space, I was given the opportunity to continue asking those questions, in an attempt to understand more fully what I was engaging with.

Random Thoughts about our ISIS Class Discussion

I’m really interested in what makes ISIS so much different from other Islamist terrorist organizations. Does ISIS really have nothing to do with religion? Are they appropriating Islam?

I remember some studies I did on Al Qaeda and what it made it so unique as an organization and couldn’t help think of Al Qaeda and ISIS comparatively. Al Qaeda is a takfirist, salafist, jihadist organization, and is built upon many foundations that allow it to thrive and survive as a functioning business, branch, and simultaneously represent an idea. A group like Al Qaeda is rooted in a fundamentalist approach to religion. This can be defined as a core, fundamental, way to interpret, live or experience religion by the core elements of religion (specifically Islam). This includes the literal interpretation of text and a literalist approach of sacred text, which tends to be ahistorical. This yields in a very close, personal relationship with text.

It is important to note that a fundamentalist approach has no direct relation with violence as they are not synonyms, yet it is the case that most armed groups that use violence are fundamentalists. Al Qaeda is structured in an Islamist framework that focuses on a strong connection between religion and politics in order to assure the laws of a government to be intertwined with the basic values of Islam. According to such a framework, political order needs to be shaped by or run accordingly to Islam.

How does this relate or differ from ISIS?

How is ISIS changing the game? It seems that ISIS is a threat to Al Qaeda…

Musa al-Gharbi stated that “ISIS is pressuring al-Qaida’s affiliates to defect—while it has failed so far to shift their allegiance, it has deepened cracks within the branches and persuaded small groups of al-Qaida members to change sides. Even if al-Qaida manages to survive the Islamic State’s challenge, in the long term it still faces a fundamental problem that is unlikely to change: even after showing some moderation, al-Qaida’s project is still too extreme for the overwhelming majority of Muslims.”

This prediction regarding Al-Qaeda’s challenges holds a large degree of value in the next chapter of Al Qaeda’s future. In my opinion, Al Qaeda’s future will be strongly impacted by ISIS and by the rapid changes in the global world of social media. Al Qaeda is constantly evolving and spreadings its views around the world, reaching far from just the Middle East through the accessibility of the internet. It is a group that is quick, resilient, and adaptive. However, ISIS does offer its followers a seemingly historic chance to join a movement that guarantees a restoration of the caliphate with an utopian vision. Even with Al Qaeda’s strong foundation and resilience, it seems that it will have to put up a fight when dealing with ISIS and its fast growing momentum.

 

 

 

ROUGH DRAFT

Gili Fleekop

Professor Albert

Reading the Qur’an

8 November 2017

Menstruation in the Qur’an

Many ideas that we have been dealing with throughout this course such as intertextuality, issues of epistemology, Tasfir, and Hadith, all will inform and impact the way in which I will go about exploring the issue of menstruation in my commentary project. Before I dive further into the ways in which these issues impact my commentary study, I will first speak to why this topic is of interest to me. Menstruation situated in a religious framework has always been a topic that I was fascinated with since it always seemed to be such an ambiguous topic in many religions. What were women allowed and not allowed to do while menstruating, according to their religion? This answer many times varied depending on where I looked. Tradition? Scripture? Commentary? Law? Why wasn’t there a clear cut answer? And who had the power to decide and dictate what women were allowed to do with their bodies during different times of the month? What is about God? Purity? Sexism? I remember having a conversation with a friend that said she went on a trip to a holy temple in Japan and before they entered the tour guide had said if any woman was menstruating, it was best that she do not enter the temple. Was this truly a matter of respect and purity? What were the implications prevalent in this situation? In some religious traditions, women can’t cook while on their period. In others, women are not allowed to touch their husbands or even sleep in the same bed as them or share food from the same plate. All of these traditions have to derive from somewhere—some belief or authoritative ruling. When it comes to the issue of menstruation in Islam, I want to explore the roots of these particular beliefs and practices and understand where the tradition is deriving from. The first place I want to look at is obviously the Qur’an itself. We see menstruation’s first and only explicit mention in Sura 2:222-223 in which we read “And they ask you about menstruation. Say, “It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” Yet, so much is left unsaid here and thus I will need to continue my exploration by looking at Hadiths that speak to issues relevant to menstruation.

Mattson writes that muslims believe that the Qur’an is a “flawlessly reliable source of truth because it is the accurately preserved records of the words of the Living God” (194). And so it makes sense that the best interpretation of the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself. Yet, how do we follow this logic if the Qur’an only tells us a mere four sentences on such a large topic? There is obviously not an elaborate description of menstruation in the Qur’an. So it seems to me that I must look to other resources for more guidance and a further, more thorough exploration. These resources will include scholars such as Mattson and Hidayatullah. But also websites such as al-Islam.org and islamqa.info that seek to provide a scholarly platform to questioners of menstruation in Islam. On these websites, I will uncover questions such as: to what extent are people distinguishing different things in the Qur’an? And when they are making claims, what tools are they using? Who are the people making these claims and what sources are they looking at?

As mentioned before I will look heavily at all of the Hadiths that speak to menstruation or “menses” as they will provide many more details on the various traditions and rulings that the Qur’an leaves out. The sixth book of Volume 1 of Hadiths is solely dedicated to “Menstrual Periods” and thus we see how relevant this issue is to the lives of many Muslim women. This being said ,I am also interested in reading personal stories and anecdotes of Muslim women who experience menstruating themselves as women of a Muslim community. This will bring a different angle to my commentary study providing a more personal perspective and understanding of how particular people grapple with the text and tradition.

My question is one that Mattson seems to be concerned with as well: How do we consolidate and combine all of the various interpretations into a coherent system so that multiple sources of varying authority can all be used to interpret the Qur’an in order to apply its norms to the lives of Muslim women? I will explore this question throughout my commentary project by using different methods and techniques to further understand the implications here. I also hope to take methods from Hidayatullah and apply them to my inquiry of menstruation in the Qur’an, such as the use of the Tawhidic Paradigm. By exploring the Tawhidic Paradigm to explore different implications of claims such as: “one can never pronounce a final interpretation of the Qur’an since to do so would be to claim to have God’s knowledge and to place one in the role of God”.  If we take this to be true, how are Muslim women left to situate themselves? What does a Muslim woman do when she is menstruating? Is she left with no final interpretation or does she have to look at all the Hadiths and thus is left with manny interpretation? How does she possibly  move forward?

These questions exhibit why it is that I am particularly interested in finding personal anecdotes of muslim women who experience the laws of menstruation is Islam. I want to explore what women in the community are actually doing and applying from particular claims, verses, Hadiths, and laws. It seems to all be about ritual purity and rituals and thus I want to uncover how different Muslim women live their lives based off of purity laws. Menstruation is a topic that I hope to find challenging, confusing, and ambiguous. It is one that represents a combination of life and death— such as a woman experiencing her period has the ability to produce life, yet has not, and in a way has interacted with death. It is this topic, this confusion, this combination of life and death, that will drive my exploration in the Qur’an and Hadiths to uncover the implications and applications in Muslim women’s lives.

1,094 words

How do you understand the “Tawhidic Paradigm”?

I understood the Tawhidic Paradigm to be a really interesting interpretive method. We learn about the concept of Tawhid, the doctrine of God’s unity and incomparability.  The importance in the Tawhidic Paradigm relies on our understanding of Tawhid. According to this concept, God is “wholly singular, unique, and indivisible”. God’s oneness and unity are emphasized here and thus it is God alone that is all knowing (NO human being can attain the level of God’s knowledge) (111). Now the use of Tawhidic Paradigm is one that focuses more on the overall relationship between “human beings and divine relationship” Hidayatullah explains. It is less frequently concerned with direct understanding of specific Qur’anic terms and verses. This is different than other methods in which we have been reading about, that directly speak to specific terms and verses and focus on them.

I found it especially interesting that scholars of feminist exegesis utilize this Tawhidic Paradigm to prove different points such as 1) that sexism/ designation men as the superior over women and the attribution of maleness to God are acts of shirk. 2) that the Tawhidic Paradigm asserts that sexism is a form of idolatry since it attributes a God-like role to men over women, and 3) one can never pronounce a final interpretation of the Qur’an since to do so would be to claim to have God’s knowledge and to place one in the role of God.

Tawhid explains how all human beings are united under one creator, and no one may share in the creator’s authority. I ask, what are the implications here? It seems that under this reasoning, understanding the Qur’an and making commentary on it is no more than an attempt to understand God and that no one can produce a final and perfect interpretation. All one can do is engage in an attempt to understand, Hidayatullah explains. I did find a liking to this argument as it broadens the scope of the study of the Qur’an and leaves room for a process that is seen as an attempt of understanding. However, there are issues that arise with it.  If all interpretation is  just merely an attempt, then why do it? How would communities of Muslims decide how they would structure their lives based off the Qur’an without any final interpretations? Don’t we need interpretations to dictate certain things?

Also Hidayatullah brings to light the argument that the Qur’an should not be equated with God. I was slightly confused about this argument. The Qur’an is the word of the God, and an eternal text. How can one not equate it with divine reality?

 

Chapter 5 “Intratextual Method” Reflections

In the first few pages of chapter 5, we read about the various ways of viewing the Qu’ran as a whole, unified text. This work seemed to relate to previous work we have engaged with in the past such as scholar Sardar who spoke to the the importance of viewing the Qur’an as an integrated text. Here, Hidayatullah introduces various angles that come at this issue with diligence and thoroughness. We read about how traditional exegeses have generally neglected the “coherence and holism” of the Qur’an text, thus failing to view verses comparatively. Whereas scholars such as Asma Barlas treats the text as “unity” and Amina Wadud using a “holistic method […] of a unified whole”.

Both Barlas and Wadud are getting at something really important here– when one treats the Qur’an in an “atomistic” way as Hidayatullah claims, then this results in misleading and distorted understanding of the text (particularly about women) THAT THEN RESULTS in patriarchal and oppressive readings of the Qur’an. So that when we decontextualize the way in which we read the Qur’an, and isolate it, something very dangerous is simultaneously happening when it comes to understanding of the text..

Ideas for commentary topic…

I know that I definitely want to explore a topic that focuses on women’s issues. I would LOVE to focus on menstruation cycles because I had so much fun reading Hadiths about menstruation, yet I know that it might be difficult to find a sura that would give me enough information to explore and other commentaries. Maybe I could broaden it to personal hygiene? Sex? If that isn’t a possibility, I would want to explore either marriage or sexuality.

 

A possible Sura to focus on is  2:222-223.

And they ask you about menstruation. Say, “It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.”

Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.

 

 

What God Really Means: Interpreting the Qur’an

In the passage regarding the Qur’anic verse regarding the obligatory Friday prayer, the verbs “hurry” “cease” “disperse” and “seek” all were in the imperative form. Yet Mattson explains how scholars understand only the words “hurry” and “cease” to create an obligation. Thus, we are left with a complicated inference in which believers are required/obligated to act in certain ways.

We see here how messy it is for scholars to distinguish which verbs imply obligations and with only imply permission if they are all in the imperative form. This ambiguity of language and interpretation complicates the situation at hand.

I found this example to be a clear example of how ambiguous language is– a topic I have been interested in since the first day of taking this class.

This is ESPECIALLY important  since this issue is the basis that commenced the development of distinctive schools of interpretation.

 

Extra Credit: Notes & Reflection on Stephen Prothero Speaker

Notes

–      Religious literacy-study of world religions

–       “religious ignorance is not bliss”

–       Religious studies vs. Religion studies at Muhlenberg College: that choice in categorizing is interesting

–       Agnotology- the study of ignorance, agnosticism (knowing that you do not know something)

–       Deliberate production of USEFUL ignorance- for some economic or political purpose

–       Ex) tobacco industry

–       Religious ignorance AKA religious illiteracy

–       Causes in history and effects today of religious illiteracy

–       Gave a quiz to students- basic facts

–       Religious knowledge- very few research and data

–       Americans know shockingly little about religion (even in their own tradition)

–       Those who know one, know none-  Muller quote

–       Need to know about more than 1… study of world religions is crucial!

–       Why does religious ignorance matter? Matters personally, academically!!

–       In order to engage in traditional academic conversations about literature and  about art.. you need religious knowledge!!

–       You cannot make sense of the world without making sense of the world’s religions

–       Culture wars

–       1830s- began the rise of religious ignorance by RELIGIOUS people not SECULAR people

–       people became literate by reading Bible, and so became biblically literate as well

–       Agnotology plays a part in why Trump was elected!

–       white Christian vote

–       Christianity as a political entity?

–       Adherence to Christianity has paradoxically declined

–       Lost cause narrative- once we were great, but we will be great again: only resonates among American Christians  (why exactly?)

–       People that did best on survey were atheists and agnostics!

–       Christians and republicans very intertwined… Jesus is a pawn in political games

–       Religion can be a platform of coexistence and not conflict

Reflection:

I found tonights talk to be so relevant and interesting to all of my work in my three religion studies classes this semester. In every one of my classes we have talked about the importance of studying religion for so many reasons. Just like Prothero claimed, we simply cannot make sense of the world without making sense of the world’s religions. However, how do we move forward when so many people are religiously ignorant or illiterate? Especially when this creates more tension and dangerous implications in realms such as politics.

Prothero urged the audience to fact-check their religious leaders sermons and claims. He urged the audience to read other religious scriptures, jokingly saying one could read the Qur’an at the beach on the weekend. He told a funny story about a woman that asked him what he was going to talk about on a television show. He explained how he wanted to argue how high schools should institute world religions classes into their curriculum. To which she vehemently disagreed until he explained, to which she responded, “that was my favorite class in high school!”

Anecdotes like this, or the one about Prothero’s own students or family members that could not name basic religious facts, show just how complex the situation at hand is. However, what was so clear and so simple was that we need to continue our study of world religions. We need to educate ourselves on not only our own religious tradition if we have one, but all the other ones that exist all over the world. Benign neglect and ignorance is not bliss. I read once in an article that to ignore all the religions of the world and to pretend that they do not deserve our attention in studying them, is to commit a sort of academic genocide…

Mattson Reflections: “What God Really Means”

Before I start, a random thought I had while reading included why Mattson chose to use so many Shakespeare quotes in conversation with the Qur’an…?

I particularly found interest in the epistemological challenge section. Mattson seemed to openly be coming from an insider of the faith perspective and portrayed the challenge in how a Muslim can be certain that they are grasping the true meaning of the Qur’an all while being sure that they have not forced themselves upon the text. Later on in the section, Mattson speaks to tafsir and other ideas we discussed in last reading and in last class. Mattson writes of the challenge to develop “a coherent system whereby multiple sources of varying authority could be used to interpret the Qur’an and to apply its norms to the lives of Muslims” (197). However, this becomes complicated when later on in the chapter we read of tasfirs such as Tabari’s that put the blame of sin on Adam’s wife which directly contradicts the Quranic narrative in which both Adam and his wife are guilty for the sin and they were both forgiven by God. What do we do with such occurrences? We see such ideas of Jewish and Christian narratives referenced in Hidayatullah and her work that speaks to ideas and challenges prevalent here. I think both Mattson  and Hidayatullah would agree that the scriptures used by Jews and Christians were not complete reliable sources and only played a part in the larger picture at hand. But I am still left wondering how they would speak to each other on the topic of the challenges of tasfir in relation to biblical material used to supplement the Qur’anic narrative?

Tafsir Reflections

Strands I found interesting in the reading:

  • Tafsir interwoven historically with Hadith and Hadith transmissions (how exactly did it become distinguished from Hadith?)
  • Shiite vs Sunni tafsir – how Shi’ite commentators tend to engage more in allegorical interpretation
  • modern values/ Muslim modernists & the attempt to reconcile Islam with rationality, science, and democracy
  • modernist scholars- Qur’an meaning can be intelligible to anyone SINCE Qur’an is approached through reason and every human being has reasoning
  • Rahman’s interest with differentiating the ideal from the contingent
  • Rahman’s claim that the actual legislation of the Qur’an cannot have been meant to be literally eternal by itself (I ask, how does this speak to the Qur’an situated in various historical contexts?)