It is interesting to note that those who compromise normative Islam or demonstrate a modernist tendency suddenly become “leading Sunni” Imams. The epithet was applied by the Times to former ISB President Ahtsham Ali who spoke at ISB’s Living Islam event, presumably because his statements fit in with neocon policy of attacking normative Islamic stances.
Claiming that the separation of the sexes is absent in the Quran, he iterated a statement which I would expect to see from modernist reformationists of the Usama Hasan variety,
“Stay in your houses and do not display yourselves like [women used to] in the time of ignorance [before Islam],” was intended specifically to the prophet’s wives, Ali said.
Aside from the obvious irrationality of ignoring principles of exegesis, like where a command is addressed to the wives it is for all women unless specifically stated otherwise, the validity of this statement can be determined by a perusal of a multitude of exegeses written on this verse which clearly indicate that the application of this verse is ‘aam (generic, to all Muslim women) as opposed to khass (specific). The preceding verse which states that the mothers of the believers are “unlike other women” indicates to their special, raised status over other women by virtue of being the blessed wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), not towards the specificity of the command (as claimed by proponents of Ali’s position). (Tafsir Ibn Kathir – specifically states that these verses are an example for other women, Tafsir Alusi – also quoted supporting this view is Zamakhshari, Tafsir Baydawi, Tafsir Ma’ariful Qur’an).
There are more problems with Ali’s words. By focussing solely on the Qur’an to unsuccessfully refute a mainstream understanding in Islam, he side-steps an entire corpus of hadith and usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence) which is also used, in addition to the Qur’an, to extrapolate rulings. It smacks of a Taj Hargey statement who uses similar reductionist diatribe to give justification to strange, un-Islamic views. One wonders how Ali would reconcile is position with the following hadith:
Aisha (RadiyAllahu ‘anha) says that a woman from behind a curtain gestured a letter to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) withheld his hand. The woman said, “O Prophet of Allah, I extended my hand to you with a letter and you did not take it?” He said, “I could not know if this is a man’s hand or a woman’s”. She said, “It is a woman’s hand.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “If you were a woman you ought to have changed your fingernails with henna.” (Sunan An-Nasa’i)
The attack however continues with the emulation of the Prophet with his incredibly misleading statement:
“You don’t emulate except what [the Prophet] asked us to emulate. Wasn’t he allowed to have the culture of his time in 7th century Arabia?”
This is a grossly incorrect, reductionist statement. Emulation without an express command formed the basis of many rulings. Furthermore, emulation without exhortation was an expectation:
‘Aisha said, “The Messenger of Allah did something as an example in order to make things easier for people but some people still refrained from doing it. When the Prophet heard about that, he praised Allah and said, ‘what do you think of people who refrain from anything that I myself do? By Allah I am the greatest of them in knowledge of Allah and the strongest of them in fear of Allah”. (Bukhari wa Muslim)