Intersections: Modernity, Gender and Qurʾanic Exegesis
Opwis, Felicitas M.
Modernity imparted a new theoretical significance to the issue of gender reform in the Muslim world. This dissertation examines the impact of modernity on the hermeneutical approaches and interpretations of three modern exegetes on significant gender issues in the Qur'an. It compares the tafsir works of Muhammad 'Abduh, Sayyid Qutb, and Muhammad al-Tahir ibn 'Ashur with those of pre-modern exegetes concerning three Qur'anic verses: 2:228, 4:3, and 4:34. These verses, among others, gained significance in modern exegetes' quest to articulate Islam's position on gender, a debate that was tied to the larger ideological question on whether or not Islam was fit for modern times. By situating the exegeses of 'Abduh, Qutb, and Ibn 'Ashur within their broader historical and intellectual contexts, this dissertation demonstrates how their tafsir on gender reflects their engagement with the broader contemporaneous debates on gender and Islam in late-nineteenth- and mid-twentieth century Egypt and Tunisia. The interpretations of all three modern exegetes evince a heightened gender-consciousness that is absent from the interpretations of pre-modern exegetes on the same verses. This underscores the particularity of an exegetical gender-consciousness to the modern period.The tension between continuity and change in modern Islamic intellectual thought demonstrates that interpretive differences between modern and pre-modern exegetes are not black and white. While 'Abduh, Qutb, and Ibn 'Ashur reach significantly new conclusions on certain verses, they also echo many of the pre-modern interpretations on gender. As such, the exegetical tradition on gender reflects a variety of interpretations that defies existing generalizations of this tradition as consistently patriarchal.While the works of all three exegetes reflect full engagement with modernity, their approaches are grounded in very different methodologies, traditions, and orientations. This dissertation argues that 'Abduh and Rida's Tafsir al-Manar and Qutb's Fi Zilal al-Qur'an both signal a departure from the classical methodologies of the pre-modern exegetical tradition, whereas Ibn 'Ashur's al-Tahrir wal-Tanwir revives the methodologies of the pre-modern, philological exegetical tradition. As such, Ibn 'Ashur represents the classical Sunni practice of renewal based on pre-existing scholarly norms.
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