The latest issue (Vol 2, No 2, 2006) of Comparative Islamic Studies, edited by Brannon Wheeler, is now available online. The articles in this special issue all deal with Islam and gender. While the articles are by subscription or for purchase, the book reviews can be read for free. Here are the article abstacts.

“Traditional” exegeses of 4:34
by Karen Bauer

Abstract: The beginning of Qur’an 4:34 (Men are qawwāmūn over women, with what God has preferred some over others, and with what they spend of their wealth) is often taken to legislate men’s authority over women. But many questions remain about the history of interpretations of this verse. In what ways have interpretations developed through time? Do pre-modern interpretations of this verse resemble modern interpretations, and what do such resemblances say about the attitudes of the exegetes? And what are the methods that pre-modern and modern exegetes use to arrive at their interpretations?

One way of empirically examining the variety in the pre-modern heritage, the methods of the exegetes, and the use of the pre-modern heritage in modern discourse is through the genre of Qur’ān commentaries (tafsīr al-Qur’ān). This verse has always been a source of controversy: pre-modern exegeses of it are varied. In the first part of this paper, I explore some of the variations in the content and methods of pre-modern interpretation, focusing on the ways in which content and method developed through time. I argue that some of the variations in content between the earliest and later pre-modern exegeses may be due to development in the exegetes’ methods of writing exegesis.

“The best of you will not strike:” Al-Shafi‘i on Qur’an, Sunnah, and Wife-Beating by Kecia Ali

Abstract: Focusing on the theoretical and substantive works of the
ninth-century jurist al-Shafi’i, namely the Risala and the Kitab al-Umm, this paper uses the Umm‘s treatment of husbands striking their recalcitrant wives as a case study to show that the Umm follows the Risala‘s methodological principles, but only up to a point. Al-Shafi’i aims to reconcile the Qur’anic evidence permitting physical chastisement with Muhammad’s exemplary practice or sunnah discouraging men from striking their wives. Yet in allowing an additional, non-scriptural consequence for a wife’s nushuz or recalcitrance, al-Shafi’i departs from his stated intention to rely exclusively on revealed texts.

The Problems of Conscience and Hermeneutics: A Few Contemporary Approaches
by Ayesha Siddiqua Chaudhry

Abstract: This paper surveys the contemporary approaches to the problems of conscience raised by the verse, exploring modes of resolving the issues that arise when believing Muslims approach the verse and find its apparent meaning to violate their pre-existing notions of justice, notions which are partly informed the by the Qur’anic text itself. It finds that the prescription of ‘hitting’ one’s wife, as the last of three mitigating directives when dealing with a woman who embodies the quality of “nushuz”, creates a moment of interruption in the relationship between the believer and text. Contemporary scholars engage both text and historical precedent in the present context when (re)interpreting Qur’an 4:34 and the relative weight given to text and precedent determines the conclusions of individual arguments.

In the Book We have left out Nothing: The Ethical Problem of the Existence of Verse 4:34 in the Qur’an by Laury Silvers

Abstract: Kecia Ali writes in her book Sexual Ethics and Islam that studies on the history and forms of gender injustice in Islam have yet to adequately address concomitant theological challenges concerning the nature of the divine justice and will. In response to this need, I would like to explore the problem posed by the mere existence of verse 4:34, otherwise known as “the beating verse,” in the Qur’an. This article is intended to be a primary theological and ethical response to the problem, rather than a secular academic analysis of historical approaches to the verse. My approach is grounded in the thought of Ibn al-`Arabi (d. 1240), arguably the most influential, systematically comprehensive, and prolific mystic and thinker of medieval Islam. Ibn al-`Arabi’s ontology, ethics, and hermeneutics of the Qur’an provide a useful frame and a possible resolution to the problem.