WHEN THE QURAN SPEAKS TO WOMEN
The language of the Qur’an, a masculine language?
We’ve seen how the Qur’an speaks about women, through the examples of illustrious female characters, depicted with great subtleness, beauty and eloquence.
Here, the Divine word comes to counter what social prejudice continues to support in the name of a universally accepted sacrality; that of the discrimination against women, structurally weaker beings, destined to subordination.
Through these Qur’anic stories about women, one perceives a constant desire to recognise and appreciate this consistently assailed feminine identity. Women as vectors of faith, which was a new conception of femininity and in particular the anticipated announcement of a project of liberation, replete with meaning, for the climate of the time.
It is especially important to bear in mind the framework of revelation, that of an intransigent patriarchal context where women were all but a human being worthy of dignity. It is at the heart of this Bedouin society with its very harsh mores, its implacably misogynistic ancestral customs and which ignores the feminine being, that the Qur’an reveals its feminine models of Muslim women, believing, intelligent. Qur’anic image of sovereign enlightened women, of saints, educators, scholars, resistors, passionate figures as we discover them through Balkis, Maryam, Asiah and all the others.
Beside this Divine speech talking about women, there is that which speaks to women, directly, personally and solemnly … .It is true that the Qur’an is the Divine word destined for all human beings regardless of their gender, their ethnicity or their colour, a speech which addresses human beings in what is most noble in their soul: their reason and their intellect.
Muslim scholars more or less agree that the masculine language expressed in the Qur’an systemically includes the feminine gender and that Divine words in general speak to both women and men, without any distinction. The masculine gender in the Qur’an is used as a neutral gender and the formalisation of masculine language implies human universality. The term ‘men’ or, rijal in Arabic is polysemous and also signifies an elite of men and women. This linguistic characteristic is moreover not exclusive to the Arabic language as it is used in the Qur’an. All the other universal languages use masculine as a neutral gender. Does the term ‘men’ in English not also encompass human beings in general? This formalisation of the word man as a universal category is actually being questioned today. This is the case when it comes to the terminology used in the universal charter of Human Rights which many are currently seeking to reform.
Nonetheless, the Qur’anic text uses the feminine gender in very precise circumstances and employs a strictly feminine language in this case, where the discourse involves calling on women specifically to respond to quests emanating from a given context or right an injustice committed against them. It is a Divine word which descends from the high Heavens specifically for them as if to better free them, better emancipate them from outdated customs, give them a new breath … as if to better love them also.