A Tribute to Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar

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Mike Ghouse

Dr. Bakhtiar is a Muslim woman translator of the Quran, and thanks to her, she corrected the 1400-year-old misogynistic interpretations of verse 4:34 that bred resentment among Muslim women, most certainly American Muslim women. 

 The traditional interpretations of the verse by the misogynic men reads as follows;

Translation by Muhsin Khan & Muhammad al-Hilali, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to Allah and to their husbands), and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah orders them to guard (e.g. their chastity, their husband’s property, etc.). As to those women on whose part you see ill conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful), but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance). Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great” 

 Even Muhammad Asad, the erudite scholar, whom I admire, translated as thus, “MEN SHALL take full care of women with the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on the former than on the latter, and with what they may spend out of their possessions. And the righteous women are the truly devout ones, who guard the intimacy which God has [ordained to be] guarded. And as for those women whose ill-will you have reason to fear, admonish them [first]; then leave them alone in bed; then beat them; and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them. Behold, God is indeed most high, great.”

In general, Muhammad Asad’s translations and interpretations come closest to the essence of the Quran and Islam, except for the verses relating to women. 

Misogyny is traditional; you will find it among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and other men. Even if it is not in the books, the practice is there.  That is another story, and I will write about it next time.

I know my fellow Muslims will thrash me for saying this, so be it. I have to tell the truth like it is. I have met and have heard from several Muslim scholars who went to Islamic seminaries, including Al-Azhar University. What do they teach there? Rote learning! They memorize what was dished out to them for centuries, and independent thinking is either discouraged or does not exist. I am sure there are thinkers out there, the whole problem is the education system.

Indeed, Hilali Khan’s translation was offered for free prior to 2012, all you have to do is call the toll-free number, and they will send a free copy. I have no idea how many million Americans have received that bad translation for free and formed a negative opinion about Islam. 

 I have interviewed several Muslim women; most of them hated the above verse but never said that to anyone and reluctantly lived within the Muslim social system. If you visit the matrimonial sites, and I did for my research, most American Muslim women who are independent and over 50 do not list their religion as Islam in their profiles; it is usually “spiritual not religious.” 

They hated the idea that the Quran permitted men to beat them if the situation arose, and some men took advantage of it.

That is not Islam, absolutely not.

That has been the practice of men of all religions throughout the history of mankind.  

Thanks to Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar for correcting that gross mistakes that had denigrated Islam. She is the most influential Islamic scholar of this century. She restored a woman’s God-given dignity prescribed in the Quran.

 Her translation reads as follows, “Men are supporters of wives because God gave some of them an advantage over others and because they spent of their wealth. So, the females, ones in accord with morality are the females, ones who are morally obligated and the females, ones who guard the unseen of what God kept safe. And those females whose resistance you fear, then admonish them (f) and abandon them (f) in their sleeping places and go away from them (f). Then if they (f) obeyed you, then look not for any way against them (f). Truly, God had been Lofty, Great.” 

Video of Dr. Bakhtiar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=833pm2pOhgw

My friend Safi Kaskas and a few others have replicated the translation. I hope to translate the Quran, and I would not use the words, “Then if they (f) obeyed you,” I would have used “If a reconciliation is achieved” or “both have agreed to the new terms.” The word obey is still misogynistic and connotates that men have more rights over women. It flies in the face of the Quran; in God’s eyes, men and women are equally responsible for living in harmony with each other. On the Day of Judgment, each one is equally accountable for their actions.

It was a lousy situation for Single Muslim women. For this reason, I painstakingly wrote the article, “Can a Muslim woman marry a non-Muslim Man?” It is her choice. If a Muslim man can marry a woman from other faiths, she should have the same rights. It is a chapter in the book American Muslim Agenda. Quran is the book of equal rights and humanistic values, and it does not say, a woman cannot marry someone from other faiths.  Not at all.

A few Muslims throw two or three verses from the Quran at me with misogynistic translations. They back off when they are made to realize that they were banking on the mistranslated and misinterpreted verses, of course, if they are independent thinkers.

Islam, the Quran, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have bombarded the idea of equality and dignity of every human. It is embedded in all of its ritual Practices. Why didn’t those Muslims not get the Message?

I have admired Dr. Bakhtiar for her research work. It was a significant relief for Muslim women knowing that the Quran treats men and women as equals. However, we have to go one more step further to reflect the actual values embedded in the Quran.

 Thanks to Dr. Bakhtiar, who has wholeheartedly endorsed my book, The American Muslim Agenda. It is on page viii of the book and reads as follows:

 “Endorsement for The American Muslim Agenda by Mike Ghouse The author presents a challenge to American Muslims to lose their egos and integrate themselves into being entirely Muslim, fully American.”

“They have a Muslim example to follow, and it is that of spiritual chivalry. Spiritual chivalry is that the spiritual warrior constantly strives for the sake of others. It is not seeing yourself as superior to others, to be an enemy of your own soul for the sake of your Lord, to act justly without demanding justice for yourself. Spiritual chivalry is to manifest a beautiful character.”

“The spiritual warrior (fata or the feminine, fatat) is a person who has a sense of honor, is called ‘he who breaks the idol.’ God Most High has said [in the Quran], ‘We heard a spiritual warrior named Abraham speak of them [the idols Abraham broke]’ [21:20]. And He said, ‘And he (Abraham, the spiritual warrior) made them [the idols] fragments’ [21:60]. The idol of every person is his own ego, so in reality, whoever opposes his own passions is a ‘spiritual warrior’.”

 She further agreed to start the mandatory continuing education for imams and Ulemas to catch up with the correct translations and interpretation of the Quran.

She is a significant loss for Muslims. We need another bold Muslim scholar to continue liberating women. Prophet Muhammad was the first man on the earth to restore the rights and dignity of women. Stay with the Quran, a book of human rights, you cannot go wrong.  

Here is a tribute to her by Davar Ardalan – https://medium.com/@idavar/courage-temperance-justice-and-the-enduring-wisdom-of-the-late-scholar-laleh-bakhtiar-df5f2aa59e4

May God bless her for liberating women.

Dr. Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker, author, community consultant, pluralist, activist, newsmaker, and an interfaith wedding officiant. Mike is deeply committed to Free speech, Human Rights, and Pluralism in Religion, Politics, Societies, and the workplace. He is the founder and president of the Center for Pluralism and a fellow at the World Muslim Congress, a Think Tank.  He has dedicated his life to building cohesive societies and offers pluralistic solutions to the media and the policymakers on issues of the day.  Everything about him at www.TheGhousediary.com

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