Editor’s Note: [I am happy to see this article and happy that UW is helping the cause! But I must just clarify one thing from the beginning of the article – there have always been women who have done serious and valuable Qur’an interpretation. From the Prophet’s (saw) time even to the present day. The fact that in certain countries/cultures women are demeaned and given second class status is not Islamic at all. So this resurgence of women’s position in Islam is a harder struggle for women in those cultures and they should be encouraged and applauded for their bravery and their knowledge.]
UW Women’s Center’s final Breaking the Silence event
- By Serena Baserman The Daily
“Years ago, this was taboo. If I had even said ‘Here I am trying to interpret the Quran,’ people would have come after me with swords.”
These were the words of Zeba Khair, standing counsel for Delhi High Court and counsel at Jamia Millia Islamia-Central University in New Delhi. On Thursday, the UW Women’s Center hosted Khair on campus.
Khair sought to shed light on the legal challenges Muslim women face in India today, and she spoke about the complex social structures in her country that, when left unaddressed, tend to place women at the bottom of a social hierarchy.
The talk was the third of a speaker series organized by the UW Women’s Center, titled “Breaking the Silence” hosted in collaboration with the Seattle Human Services Department.
To contextualize the challenges she faces in representing women in her legal practice, Khair spoke about the intersection of politics and religion in India today. For example, the legacy of India’s caste system continues to create social divisions and can widen the gap between men and women in lower classes.
Additionally, because the country is democratic and secular, India makes no distinction as to which religion’s laws are used to facilitate social practices. This means that different groups within India are operating under different legal norms and customary laws. As a Muslim woman, Khair specifically works to interpret the Quran in the context of divorce. She explained that arecently revised process called the triple talaq enables a Muslim man to divorce his wife by repeating the word “talaq” three times.
“There is a huge conversation going on today in India,” Khair said in her discussion of alarger movement of women attempting to contextualize the Quran’s teachings in a way that more appropriately protects the rights of women. The movement extends out of India as well; Khair pointed out that Indonesia and Egypt are leading this effort to protect women’s rights.
“I want to do away with how the Quran was interpreted and how the shariat came to be because these topics that are so close to our day-to-day lives were not interpreted properly,” Khair said.
Khair explained that the Quran’s original aim establishing marriage practices was to establish a “pairing.”
“This clearly establishes equality and cooperation,” she said.
In interpreting the Quran for divorce practices today, Khair described that the original context within which the Quran was written is important to consider when making decisions about its interpretation today. Khair used the example of polygamy as a practice that had logical justification when the population of women dramatically outnumbered men, but is not as relevant today.
“We have to go back to the source each time, and there’s no harm in going back to the source because really [the Quran] is where we should derive the truth from,” Khair said.
The Women’s Center serves as a resource space on campus, and organizes speaker events to enable and promote conversations about gender inequities.
The Women’s Center operates a variety of regular programs throughout the year. These include an anti-human trafficking research and policy analysis project, and a “lifelong learning” re-entry program for students returning to the university setting. The Women’s Center also leads a program called Making Connections that works to engage high school students and prepare them for college, as well as the Alene Moris Leadership Institute.