Topics Challenged in 2014
Female Figures in the Qur’an: Deepening the Sound Experience in the Text
In Wadud’s book, Qur’an and Women, she explains her engagement with the Quran in a form of a reading. By reading, she means: “The process of reviewing the words and their context in order to derive an understanding of the text.”3 In explaining her methodology, Wadud delineates her preference to the method used by Fazlur Rahman in interpreting the Qur’an and that is one that suggests a contextual approach to reading the text, which is articulated as follows: “all Qur’anic passages revealed as they were in a specific time in history and within certain general and particular circumstances, were given expression relative to those circumstances.”4
Furthermore, the contemporary discourse, that figures such as Wadud, Asma Barlas, and Fatima Mernissi belong to, often focuses on the why-question in proposing new readings. Their way of concentrating on the grammatical structure of Arabic as a gender-specific language in addressing males and females, founds the basis for questions such as, “why does the Qur’an specify “males and females on some occasions (like Believing males and Believing females [masculine plural followed by feminine plural forms] while on other occasions uses a more generic (‘Oh you who believe ...’)?”5 Although this engagement with the Qur’an is a valid conversation that allows women to experience the word of God over the male-dominant voice, I still believe that this discourse had missed an important component, one that this paper intends to focus on.
Henceforth, this paper plans to overcome the why-question by stepping away from the contextual and/or sociopolitical language with an aim to reach the voice in the words, the sound structures, and the meanings and emotions that stem from the relationship between words and personifications. This in precise is articulated in The Qur’anic Presentation of the Joseph Story. In that, Johns explains a fluid and unrestricted relationship with the text that goes beyond the exterior text to the interiority of the mind, as he says: “An appreciation of the character of dialogue and direct speech in the Qur’an, then, needs to go beyond an understanding of the words as they appear on the printed page. The challenge is to hear them in the mind’s ear, to listen to the various ways in which they could have been uttered. Above all else, it is necessary to listen.”6 This kind of engagement, one that allows a reciter to experience the power of the words is termed “the Word as liturgy” by William Graham.7 He suggests that in such engagement, the reciter is able to celebrate the Qur’anic event.8 Furthermore, he, as Johns, stresses the notion of listening, which characterizes one’s experience with the Qur’an, as he says: “The importance of the recited Qur’an does not obviate the importance of the written text, but it reminds us that the written text is always secondary - a support to the orally transmitted text, not a determinant of it.”9