Indonesia: When Women have been Ulema since Early Islam, Were Have their Names Gone?

In another first, coming from Indonesia, Women “ulema” – Muslim clerics – recently held their first ever national gathering in West Java. A news portal reports that the goal was twofold: to gain recognition for women religious scholars, and to advance women’s rights by sharing their interpretation of Islamic texts.

“Why is there nothing written in the Quran or the [Book of] Hadith about husbands who do not satisfy their wives sexually? Are there any punishments for men like there are for women who refuse sex?” The question drew loud applause, as the woman asking it, wearing a colorful hijab like all the 800 or so women in the audience, sat back down.

At this premier gathering of a national congregation of Muslim women “ulema” (clerics) from across Indonesia. They met for three days in late April in Cirebon, West Java, to assert themselves as scholars and preachers of Islam on par with men. The gathering was named Kongress Ulama Perempuan Indonesia (KUPI), a wide range of socio-political issues were discussed and fatwas were issued, all of them informed by the clerics’ study of Islam and their experiences as women.

The idea for the gathering was born five years ago when the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) refused to recognize women as ulema, a position conferred based on a person’s knowledge of the Quran and the Book of Hadith. In response, various women’s groups from different Muslim organizations came together and discussed the need for a space that would empower women ulama to assert their own positions, issue fatwas and question the state.

“Women have been Ulema since the beginning of Islam, but women’s names have disappeared from any references thanks to a patriarchal interpretation of Islam and political history”

The  rest of the detailed report on the gathering that will have significance for the human rights of Muslim women may be read here.



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