IlmSummit Day 6 | Textual Reinterpretation & Feminism

Ilm Summit Arrival, Delayed

The fourth annual Ilm Summit hosted by AlMaghrib Institute began last Friday but due to my NicheHero workshop in Toronto, I did not arrive until mid-morning on Sunday. It was nice to see the familiar faces of the hotel staff and my fellow students and teachers. Because I arrived late, I was stuck until the break for lunch in the very back row at the last table but my friends from California (SoCal) went out of their way to take care of me and help me settle in, which was greatly appreciated.

Over the course of the next few of days, several people came up to me and asked where I had been because they hadn’t seen me for the first two days. It’s heart-warming to know that one’s absence was noted. Those of us who come here, year after year, have become like a strange extended family. Many of us only see each other once a year, but when we do, we pick up right where we left off as though no time had passed between our annual meetings.


Things are generally very good and run smoothly for me as a student at Ilm Summit. The volunteers are always there working hard behind-the-scenes, which allows us to chill and benefit as much as possible. Our instructors are on-point teaching us new and exciting topics and making themselves available for quite a bit of personal interaction. The diverse menu offerings are appreciated. Even the pairing of roommates is appreciated, I’ve never been disappointed, and always meet some extraordinary sister.

Feminism and Textual Reinterpretation

When Yasir Qadhi announced to the students that this Thursday’s wild card session would be on the topic of feminism, I was intrigued. Two years ago, Julie, the 2008 Ilm Summit top student presented an overview of different movements within Western feminism. Despite the grumblings from some student and the heightened awkwardness of the situation, her presentation was a step forward for AlMaghrib and the mostly conservative audience.

Quite a few sisters suggested or nominated me to join with the group of sisters that would be participating in the wild card discussion. However, when I heard the topic was not feminism per se but rather a discussion of the issues and difficulties Western Muslims face relating to marriage I was less intrigued. I’m sure those who are involved will do a good job and hope there will be some fruitful discussion.

Kicked Out of the Front Row

I’ve always liked the side by side classroom seating setup here at Ilm Summit and I often find myself in the front row ready to listen, interact, and take notes. So it came as a rude shock Wednesday evening when those of us who sit in the front row were told quite unceremoniously that we would not be permitted to sit in our front row seats for that the Quran Night wild card session.

No real reason was given and when I returned from dinner to gather my belongings from my front row seat, I found a gaggle of young kids comfortably sitting there. Please remind me again how Islam honored women, and how being forced to give up your seat to a kid probably not even 10 years old is respectful to the women who gave up their time and sleep and made an effort to come early before the end of the lunch break to obtain that seat? I was annoyed and thoughts of staging a sit-in protest crossed my mind. Instead, I took a fourth row aisle seat.

Around conservative Muslims, I sometimes get the feminist label. In this context, the feminist label means that I don’t like to be treated poorly or unfairly by my co-religionist and that I sometimes voice my disdain when I encounter such degrading treatment.

Modernist Textual Reinterpretation

I find it fascinating the way some clerics (that word is growing on me) do a modernist dance around “problematic” verses in the Quran or hadith. Even as they claim to affirm the original text and meaning such as in Nisa 4:34 or in hadith of the women with deficient aql these interpretations seem apologetic and quite like some other modernist interpretations, which conservatives criticize. If we can open this door, responding to the issues conservatives have a hard time saving face on, then the door is also left open for similar interpretation on other issues.

It may seem contradictory but I think those grounded in orthodoxy and modernity are the way forward for the American Muslim community. Yet, I am aware of the limitations I see in many of our teachers. No doubt, there is still much I can learn from them and I try to take the good from them but increasingly recognize how in order to grow and learn I must move beyond them.


  1. The brothers were told they couldn’t sit in the front row either. So no bias there. =)

    Husn adh-Dhann?

  2. No doubt good thoughts are there. However, the brothers did indeed sit in the front row just leaving two seats open for the Yasarayn while we were kicked out of our front row completely and preference was given to the children. The two are not the same as was evident to anyone in attendance.

  3. Were there any other reasons given for the eviction from the front row? There is a recent hullabaloo about a Toronto school because jummah prayers were offered in the school cafeteria (the school hired an imam – so most of the outcry was the school supporting a religion) where women sat in the back or were not allowed to participate and there was a barrier.

  4. I don’t necessarily believe that the interpretation of the word aql moves beyond any conservative opinion, Shaykh Yasir himself stated that Ibn Taymiyya’s opinion was that women are in fact NOT dumber and less intelligent than men. It refers to the fact that women are less able to control their emotions. Nisa 34 allows men to beat women lightly- I don’t see the need for dancing around here. What is the big deal about women’s rights in America anyway? Muslim women are thriving here in the UK despite being more conservative than the US.

  5. Mezba: I did not hear a single decent reason, as is so often the case, it seems Muslim women are deemed expendable, even in the spaces ostensibly designated for them, and are expected to not say anything about it.

    MuslimNoise: My contention is that in many discussions of “problematic” texts, there does seem quite a bit of modernist interpretation in evidence. Public discussion of either of the two examples tends to be couched in very carefully worded terms and to yield hour-long answers.

    Even in Nisa v. 34, the verse does not say “lightly” this is an interpretation and the dance comes into play because very few would state what you have just alluded to publicly. Rather we hear a range of answers, which try to rationalize or even say trying to implement the end of the ayah would do more harm in this society and may not be practical for Muslims today. Once the door is opened, criticism of others for using a similar approach on other issues is weakened.

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