Dr. Nimat Hafiz Al-Barazangi, in her book titled "Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: a New Reading," is trying to prove that the absence of Muslim women from taking part in the formation of Islamic identity leads to their obligatory alienation from entering in the contents of the Qur'anic text. This is restricted only to the men, who invade the Qur'anic texts and monopolize it to uphold their absolute power, which gives Islam an untruthful image of discrimination and ignoring womenís rights.
Dr. Barazangi seeks, through this book and the bold new ideas contained within it connected to the Qur'an, a reconsideration of the image of women, and a re-formalization of womenís Islamic identity to make it suitable with its true teachings.
Thara met Dr. Nimat Hafiz Barazangi after a lecture in a retirement home and a discussion about her last book "Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: a New Reading" . She was asked about her activities in the U.S.A, about the reason for her visit to Syria, and about the lecture which she held, titled " Why must women re- interpret the Qur'an?"
Welcome to your country, Dr. Barazangi. May we know the reason for your visit and do you work for any women group or organization?
I have come to Syria to work with the Ministry of Higher Education and the Supreme Council of Sciences to train professors of social sciences and the humanities in the four public universities to conduct contemporary scientific searches.
I am not a member in of any specific any organization. I talk with groups and people undertaking Qur'anic studies or dealing with the understanding of womenís issues, and I donít belong to any group as I live in America. However the recognition of different women's groups and their different activities is important to me, in order to obtain an understanding of the matters which may solve problems, in order for my knowledge of these issues to be realistic and not opinionated, and the nature of scientific study, effective study, which I undertake depends on working with social groups, in order to understand the matters which they are faced with. These organizations work with me on researching specific questions, after that they themselves decide on the issues rand search for references and various expertise in order to understand the nature of these problems and find the solutions themselves.
And what are more prominent problems that women in Syria are confronted with according to the research?
Actually I donít deal with specific problems , but undertake to understand the foundational problems, using the example of the entrance of women into intellectual or social activities most of which follow a customary path. Women always practice customary social roles but are in the end banned from making any decisions, the privilege of which lies with men only, and this is a big problem because women normally understand women's needs more than men do. Another opinion is that women are only able to undertake work related to women, and do not have the right to talk about other problems in society; this does not help in the building of society.
In your lecture you called for the entry of women into the science of interpretation of the Qur'an. What pushed you to build this thought?
I have found that throughout time women have been distanced from the interpretation of the Qur'an and donít affect any of the decision-making in Islamic society. The decisions always come from the Sheiks or religious men, without any consultation with or input from women. Knowing that women are half of society and that they have a religious role and mission, and women carry their mission and their faith just as men do, this process alienates and distances women, which causes a mis-understanding in the role of women in society.
There is an abundance of different fatwa's and interpretations issued by Sheiks and various religious men. Do you think that it is necessary to control this situation as it is very important, and why have you not called for more control on this matter?
These fatwa's are partial things thank have not undergone integral Qur'anic studies and therefore they cannot be accepted. Any fatwa whether it has come from a group or a sheikh without recourse to integral academic studies cannot be accepted. The difference between a prudent Muslim who understands the Qur'an and a Muslim precipitous in his feelings is that he undertakes organized and integral studies of the Qur'an using the internal methodology of the Qur'an itself.
From the point of view of the Shari'a (Islamic Law) is there any barrier preventing women form entering into the science of interpretation?
According to my understanding of the Qur'an there is nothing preventing women from entering into its interpretation, I mean here the Qur'anic legislation itself, and not the rest of the Shari'a sciences.
What will guarantee that the entry of women into the interpretive field will not cause the same problems that we suffer from today with numerous interpretations of a single Qur'anic text?
This may happen as women are people and people make errors and mistakes but this should not make us afraid of this consequence before we have arrived at it, and it should not mean that women should be prevented from this path. Why do we accept other interpretations because they are from men and not accept interpretations from women, and why are we afraid that there will be a problem if it is a women that has partaken in the interpretation?
What can you tell us about your latest book?
The book which is titled "Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: a New Reading" is the outcome of ten years of work of sifting through the Qur'anic text and the problems which our Muslim sisters face, whom I respect themselves and their efforts, but they continue to undertake interpretation in a traditional way, and stay without developing the way in which they are following it. They will not arrive at a new interpretation, and cannot obtain any change in the patriotic opinion of women.
Can you tell us about the nature of your activities in the United States?
I have many activities and I am a member of a number of Islamic Women's organizations , and I am involved in the interpretation of the concept of human rights with regards to women in the Qur'anic framework. I participate in the development of Muslims and Arabs in America. I also have a third activity, which is partaking in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution in an indirect way, by offering my opinion through my understanding of the Qur'an concerning some items which relate to the rights and responsibilities of women in building new society.
And in her reply to some questions relating to issues which concern Muslims lately Dr. Barazangi said: A female Imam is exactly the same as a male Imam, and people must carry their faith in any way, and there is no problem with this according to the concept of Khilafah in the Qur'an.
With regards to the cartoons depicting the prophet, she said: This is unacceptable and a cultural treason, as it is unacceptable to depict in any form any religious person or person with historical and intellectual value such as the prophet. However, I disagree with the reactions that happened, as violence does not solve problems, two wrongs will never make a right. We must instead start a good a reasonable dialogues which rejects the excuse of freedom of expression as the reason for these pictures, as freedom of expression is linked with freedom of the other and respect of his values.
Lastly Dr.Barazangi mentioned that some Arab women's groups and Islamic groups accept what comes from the west without filtering or examining the degree of its sustainability to the society which they live in. For that reason she demands that the interpretation of the Qur'an become a fundemaenatal foundation for women's movements; we must not fetch ideas from others which may or may not be suitable with Islamic and Arab countries.
In her opinion of the Arab and Syrian women's movement, Dr. Barazangi asks:
Is there really a women's movement?! Looking at the results that are available to me I donít feel that there is a serious women's movement in Syria.
What is the reason for this in your opinion? Are the reasons for this political or social?
I donít know, maybe there are various reasons, even if we can name a movement there must be clear reasons and aims concordant with it. There are many groups but they practice social work, a small amount of them undertake work in organizations to raise the level of women and their intellectual awareness, this isnít what one would call a women's movement but a social movement to improve women's social status. There remains a difference between helping women and giving them the means to help themselves, and there is a difference between social help and intellectual ways which can raise their awareness and self-esteem.
Researcher in a social program by Cornell University in the USA on feminist studies and gender issues.
Researcher in educational affairs, especially in Arab and Muslim emigrants, adding to their relation to Arab and Muslim women's issues.
Obtained a number of prizes for her research and has published a number of articles and books.
Co-edited in the book released in English titled " Islamic Identity and the Struggle for JusticeĒ
Released in 2004 her book " Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: a New Reading"