Classical Qurʾanic exegesis and women

Authored by: Hadia Mubarak

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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Moving away from binary conceptions of Qurʾanic tafsīr as either patriarchal or egalitarian, this chapter seeks to complicate current narratives on exegetical interpretations of women and gender in the Qurʾan. By exploring medieval exegetical texts between the 9th and 14th centuries on critical verses related to gender, this chapter illustrates the influence of exegetes’ socio-cultural milieus on their commentaries on gender roles and hierarchies. Despite the influence of their patriarchal contexts, medieval exegetes also reflected a consistent concern with women’s legal rights, such as kind companionship and fair treatment within a marriage. Hence, the genre of law critically intervenes in medieval Qurʾanic exegesis, informing the way exegetes interpreted key terms in the Qurʾan. This chapter provides a close analysis of exegetical interpretations on three key verses related to polygyny (Q. 4:3), men’s disciplinary authority over women (Q. 4:34), and men’s nushūz or turbulence (Q. 4:128). It argues that while the interpretive pluralism of tafsīr appears to diminish on women’s issues, there were and continue to be important outliers to dominant interpretations.

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