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Walking the Walk: Justice as a Way of Life

The most crucial aspect of Wadud’s comprehensive approach to justice, however, is the commitment to live out these principles in the private sphere. Citing Q. 61:2—‘Why do you say that which you do not do?’—she writes that calling for equality in the public sphere is meaningless, even hypocritical, if such progressive discourses are not put into practice in one’s personal life.[1] As she phrased it in our interview:

it’s like you live that consciousness. And in that sense that’s where I think back to my father. I think my father lived his consciousness as much as you can for a poor, not very well educated man. I mean like sixth grade’s top education for him. So to me it’s the idea of walking the walk, not just talking the talk.. .Islam as din [literally, religion], as a way of life. Justice is a way of life. Justice is a relationship between yourself and between others inspired by your relationship with God, who created you. And so there’s no public/private divide, where you can do all kinds of stuff in private as long as you look good in public.264

The organizational dynamics of SIS reflected this commitment to walk the walk, to harmonize progressive pronouncements in the public sphere with egalitarian practice in daily life. While numerous human rights organizations call for social justice and gender equality, their administrative structures, paradoxically, tend to be rigidly hier- archal. There is a critical disconnect, then, between the empowering public discourse of these movements and the unequal manner in which their members actually relate to one another. However, SIS, at least during Wadud’s time in Malaysia between 1989 and 1992, was acutely non-hierarchal in its organizational structure, operating without a chairperson, president, or executive committee—what Wadud describes as ‘the standard male corporate lines’—as members, working purely as volunteers, interacted with each other as essentially equals.[2] In other words, SIS not only forwarded an inclusive discourse in the public sphere, supporting women’s full participation in sociopolitical and religious life, but also strove to translate these egalitarian ideals into its everyday functioning, fostering a genuine culture of sisterhood between its members.

The family is the most important private space wherein professed commitments to social justice need to be lived out. The centrality of the family in Wadud’s writings is captured in the acknowledgements of her second book, Inside the Gender Jihad (2006), in which she emphasizes the pivotal role that her children have played in her life. Despite her pioneering contributions to Islam and gender reform, or what she collectively refers to as ‘work for Allah outside the home’,[3] it is the efforts and sacrifices that she as a single mother has made for her family—work for Allah inside the home—that takes centre-stage, constituting the very ‘foundation’[4] of her gender jihad. But it is precisely here, in contributing to familial tasks like housework and childcare, that Wadud discerns a disjuncture between the public discourses and private lives of progressively minded Muslim men. As she forcefully put it in our interview:

There’s too much lip service. This is a disappointment that I had with actual persons who are considered reformist. And then you go [to his] home and the wife never comes out of the kitchen... [or]... they are married to traditional women or women who are not as well educated as themselves so they don’t engage them intellectually at the same level that they do with other men or even women who are educated in the public space... whatever it is, I’m not seeing, I’m not seeing families, where the progressive men are doing everything that they say that they are talking about in the public space. It’s like, who are you talking for? Are you talking for your wife here? Are you saying that, oh yeah, well,

I want it in the public space but at home, you know?268

Simply put: just conduct is equally important in the public and private spheres.[5] In order to be truly committed to justice, men need to value housework, to appreciate the labour that women have historically undertaken inside the home. Men need to start seeing this work as being as valuable in the eyes of God as the work that is done outside the home—recalling Wadud’s description of both as ‘work for Allah’—and then to play an even share in that labour. The Qur’an, she points out, never describes domestic activities like child rearing as being an essential aspect of womanhood.[6] There is no scriptural mandate, then, for a gendered division of labour across public and private spaces, leaving the distribution of these tasks open to the possibilities of new contexts. Such an egalitarian arrangement within the family exemplifies what Wadud calls the principle of reciprocity (muawadha). For her, a reciprocal moral culture is the solution to patriarchy and its base assumption of a hierarchal relationship of domination between women and men, reconfiguring this relationship into one of ‘partnership’,[7] marked by equality, interdependence, and mutual responsibility.

  • [1] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 207. 264 Wadud, Interview 2009.
  • [2] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 117-18. She notes, however, that SIS has sincedeveloped into a full-fledged NGO with an executive director and salaried workersand, thus, an institutionalized, hierarchal structure.
  • [3] Ibid, xvii. 3 Ibid.
  • [4] 268 Wadud, Interview 2009.
  • [5] Amina Wadud, ‘Islam beyond Patriarchy through Gender Inclusive Analysis’,in Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, ed. Zainah Anwar (PetalingJaya, Malaysia: Musawah, 2009), 98.
  • [6] Wadud, Qur’an and Woman, 22.
  • [7] Wadud, ‘Islam beyond Patriarchy through Gender Inclusive Analysis’, 101-2.
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