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A Progressive Interpretation of The Qur’an

quranOne way to challenge misrepresented, misread, and misused interpretations of the Qur’an is by understanding three intersecting hermeneutical horizons: the carnal, the conceptual, and the communal.

In the Islamic community, the methods used to understand the Qur’an are varied. This fact leads to diversity in interpretations. However, sometime the Qur’an is being misread, misrepresented, and misused. McAuliffe says that one way to challenge these misrepresented, misread, and misused interpretations is by understanding three intersecting hermeneutical horizons: the carnal, the conceptual, and the communal.

In carnal interpretations, the Qur’an has been, heard, viewed, touched, and sometimes ingested, long before it is ever read. The scripture of the Qur’an is embodied within Muslim life and material culture by continual recitation by mouth, eyes, and ears. The conceptual system is the claiming of “a divine origin” for the verbal transmission of the text of the Qur’an, asserting the complete accuracy of its continuously uncorrupted transmission and rejoices in its matchless rhetorical perfection. The third type of interpretation is communal, which is how the intellectual and spiritual formations of the Qur’an move from one generation to another in all Muslim communities from the elementary level to elite levels of education.

In the discourse of contemporary religious study religious phenomena can simply be identified either from the approach of their textual normative teachings or the historical understanding and interpretation of the norms. The first approach results in textual, literal, and theological understandings of religious doctrine. Meanwhile, the latter approach tends to take into account the historicity of human understanding, accompanied by the interdisciplinary approaches that include historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, and anthropological methods.

An approach to understanding the Qu’ran with fully adequate interpretation includes “experienced Qur’an,” or multiple dimensions of carnality, conceptuality, and communality. These multiple dimensions are necessary to bring about “new exegetical voices” that are sensitive to the historical situation of the text and to present historical distance from that situation. Therefore, there are attempts to bridge the gap between the original and contemporary context of the Qur’anic revelation. Traditional commentators of the Qur’an who use a normative interpretation have problems with the context of contemporary exegesis. By asserting the “new exegetical voices” that pay attention to the historical context of the text, there would be no distance between the original text and contemporary situations. One Islamic scholar, Fazlur Rahman, asserted that all Qur’anic passages revealed as they were in a specific time in history and within certain general and particular circumstance, were given expression relative to those circumstances. However, the spirit is not only limited to that time. Understanding the context of the texts during the time is used in order to determine the proper meaning.

Although the resource of the texts is the same, the outcome of interpretation could be different. For example, the Qur’an Anisa’:34 states that “Arrijalu qowwamuna alan nisa.”Most traditional interpreters translate this verse literally, which says men are the protectors and maintainers of women. Therefore, they believe that men must be protectors, maintainers, and leaders for women. In contrast, the modern interpreters who use the historical approach will criticize this verse. Not all men can be leaders or protectors for women. It depends on his ability and intellectual capacity to lead. In reality or in contemporary societies that are not strict patriarchies, many women have the ability and intellectual capacity to be leaders. Historically, even the Qur’an mentions that there was a woman leader, Bulquis, when the prophet Suleiman was alive. Therefore, men or women can be leaders or protectors if they possess the ability. When the text was revealed, a Muslim reported to the Prophet Muhammad that he just did something bad to his wife. He slapped his wife when he had a family problem. Then this verse was revealed as a reminder that the husband must protect the wife, not humiliate or treat her badly. As a result, modern interpreters believe that the Qur’an verse An Nisa’ 24 is about how to treat women appropriately. The process of interpretation of religious texts consists of a double movement, from the present situation to the Qur’anic times, and then back to the present.

Modern interpreters such as Islamic feminists believe that Islamic texts respect men and women equally. But in fact there are many Muslims practicing the ideas of equality in the texts inappropriately because they have used the interpretations exclusively from the male’s perspective for centuries. The position of Muslim women was much more egalitarian in the early years of Islam before the final codification of Islamic law by the tenth century by male legists who sought to circumscribe women’s public activities in the interests of maintaining patriarchal order. Through hermeneutics, Muslim feminists and modernists tend to reread the texts by emphasizing the notions of equality and justice in men’s and women’s roles in the society, which are complementary and egalitarian rather than hierarchal and unequal. In the context of modern Islam, when talking about an equality-based interpretation of the Qur’an, this can only be successful when a complete reexamination of the primary sources of Islamic thought, praxis, and worldview is made that intentionally includes female perspectives on these sources and that validates female experiences.

Hermeneutics is a theory or philosophy of interpretation. It can be used as a method in human sciences by re-thinking or re-experiencing what the author had originally felt or thought. In other words, hermeneutics is a method to transpose a meaning-complex. A hermeneutic model is consequently engaged in two tasks: the ascertaining of the exact meaning of a word, sentence, and/or texts, and the discovery of the instructions contained in symbolic forms. To reach conclusions, according to Amina Wadud, an Islamic Feminist, a hermeneutic model is focused on three aspects of the text: first, the context in which the text was written, second, the grammatical composition of the text, and the third is the world-view of the text. Wadud said that the hermeneutic method can be applied to women’s issues in the Qur’an by analyzing the text in its context, in the context of discussion on similar topics in the Qur’an, in the light of similar language and syntactical structure used elsewhere in the Qur’an, in the light of overriding Qur’anic principles, and within the context of the Qur’anic Weltanschauung, or world-view. She also emphasized paying attention to Arabic language because the Qur’an and the Hadith use Arabic to present their messages. For example, in Arabic grammar there are three principles when talking about the plural form that relate to men and women.

A. At-tullab fi al ghurfah (masculine plural form) means (1) three or more students in the room-including at least one male, (2) three or more exclusively male students in the room.

B. At-talibat fi al ghurfah (feminine plural form) means three or more female students in the room.

C. At tullab wa al talibat fi al-ghurfah indicates that the use of masculine plural (at tulab) refers to exclusively males since the inclusion of the female plural form distinguishes the female students present.

From those examples it can be understood that the word for plural male can be applied for plural female too, but the plural female form can only be used for plural female. To emphasize that the word refers to plural male, the sentence should include the plural female form, too.

Jane Kronik points that that there are four criteria for evaluating the validity of qualitative interpretations of written texts. The first is analogous to internal consistently reliability in quantitative research – that is, the interpretation of part or with the whole text. Likewise, the “developing argument” should be internally consistent. Second, the interpretation should be complete, taking all evidence into account. Third, criterion involves “conviction.” This means that interpretation should be the most compelling one in light of the evidence within the text. Fourth, it should be meaningful. It should be make sense of the text and extend our understanding of it.

Alimatul Qibtiyah
Aktivis perempuan dan peneliti masalah gender. Ketua Lembaga Penelitian dan Pengembangan 'Aisyiyah (LPPA) Pimpinan Pusat Aisyiyah. Komisioner Komnas Perempuan. Anggota Majelis Tarjih dan Tajdid PP Muhammadiyah. Dosen Fakultas Dakwah dan Komunikasi (FDK) UIN Sunan Kalijaga.

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