This is a series of excerpts from the book The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi. An interesting read, but read with a grain of salt as all books that talk about Islam, and history.
I was intrigued by how the word Khalifa is defined and understood in the Arabic language. It is a masculine word, and has no feminine equivalent – hence by default a Khalifa can only be male.
Then we define the duties of the Khalifa, one being leading prayers, which most jurists agree can only be done by a male. A female may in certain circumstances lead prayer, but only a group of females, never males. This strengthens the idea that a Khalifa can only be a male.
Now, the question of today’s world, where there are no Khalifas, only heads of state. The divine and earthly roles thus separated, so then why can’t a woman be the head of state. On the surface this is a simple hypothesis but digging deeper, the roles are so intertwined, it is hard to delineate with clarity.
What I found interesting were the number of female military and political figures in Islamic History that I was never taught about. The various titles they assumed on accession to the throne and their contributions to empire.
“There is no feminine form of the words imam or caliph, the two words that embody the concept of power in the Arabic language…The Lisan al-Arab dictionary informs us without qualification that “al-khalifatu la yakunu illa li al-dhakr” (caliph is used only in the masculine). In such a context, where the principle of exclusion, any infiltration into the realm of political decision making by women, even under the cloak of and the corridors of he harem…is utterly laudable and a heroic adventure. How did the women of former times, supposed to have fewer advantages than we do, manage such an achievement in a domain where we moderns fail so lamentably?”
The question central is – “How could Islam reconcile two points: the principle of equality among all believers and the very restrictive criteria of eligibility for the caliphate?”
This is posed as a paradox, an enigma. But it really is not. The divine link of the caliphate should put the question to rest. I for one know that reading this book, leads me to search and clarify my own concepts about the nature of equality. Especially with the text of the recent CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) that is an abomination in some of its points.
Being a woman, you should fight for your rights, but there is a fine line between fighting for legitimate rights (equal pay) and fighting for the sake of fighting over non-issues. Read and research – do not just accept what you read.