Reinterpreting the Qur’an in the Style of Feminist Kiai: KH. Husein Muhammad Feminist means he who realizes that women are oppressed and placed in subordinate positions only because of their gender, and he takes action to eliminate this oppression.  For Yusuf Rahman, Kiai Husein realized and took this action.  This awareness is evidenced by Kiai Husein’s reinterpretation of the Qur’an and his criticism of fiqh.  Most of the Tafsir al-Qur’an and Fiqh that we inherit are products of a culture that prioritizes men over women. Therefore in some cases, women are marginalized and oppressed unconsciously. Not only that, as a concrete action, Kiai Husein was also actively involved and even established institutions to eliminate oppression and marginalization, especially women in the pesantren environment, the Fahmina Institute for example.  These points are discussed in the Rahman Journal article.  However, in this paper, we will focus more on the point of reinterpreting the Qur’an.

What are the principles of Kiai Husain in interpreting the Qur’an. And how are these principles put into practice to interpret the Qur’an?  This is the essence of the question that will be answered in this paper.

In reinterpreting the Qur’an there are at least six bases for Kiai Husein in interpreting the Qur’an as Rahman found in his study.  Three of them are general principles, and the other three are specific ones for the interpretation of the Qur’an.  This basic amount and division is from myself, Rahman did not label it explicitly.  The three general principles are monotheism (tawhid), the universal values ​​of Islam, and the five basic human rights.  While the three special principles of interpretation are the division of verses into specific and general, the division of verses into descriptions and instructions, and the principle of the gradual phase of the verses of the Qur’an.

Tawhid As a General Basis In Reinterpreting the Qur’an

Tawhid as a general basis means that only God is “above”.  Men and women are in the same position “under” God.  This is to deny the position depicted that God is “above” men, and men are above women.  That is, to go to God, women must pass the permission of men.  The universal values ​​of Islam as the basis are: justice, equality, tolerance, and peace (‘adalah, musawah, tasamuh, and islah).  Men and women are included in these values.  And, the five basic human rights are: the right to religion, the right to physical and spiritual prosperity, the right to knowledge and opinion, the right to offspring, the right to wealth/social welfare (hifz al-din, wa al-nafs, wa al-‘aql, wa al-nasl aw al-‘ird, wa al-mal).  These five things are also owned by women and men.

Then, for a special basis for reinterpreting the Qur’an, Kiai Husein divided the verses of the Qur’an into Meccan verses and Medina verses.  The Meccan verses have a universal purpose, and these are the muhkamat verses.  Meanwhile, the Medina verses are more specific and tied to context.  So, these verses are more open to be interpreted based on the context.  These are mutasyabihat verses.  Specific verses must be interpreted with universal verses to apply to different contexts.

Descriptive Narratives and Prescriptive Narratives

So, in terms of narration, Kiai Husein further divides the verses of the Qur’an into descriptive narratives and prescriptive narratives (khabari and talabi).  Or, in simpler language, narratives that describe the situation at that time, and narratives that are instructions to follow and apply.  Narratives that tell the context at that time, do not deserve to be applied directly to a different context.  While the narration of instructions applies more universally.

Finally, the principle of the gradual phase of the verses of the Qur’an to create a more ideal society, namely equal opportunities to develop and actualize themselves.  Those are the six principles of Kiai Husein in interpreting the Qur’an according to Rahman.  Next, let’s see how these principles are put into practice by taking one verse as an example.

The verse that is widely debated about the superiority of men over women is al-Nisa: 34. What Kiai Husein is concerned about is not the verse of the Qur’an, but the interpretation of it.  Thus, this verse must be interpreted in the light of the aforementioned principles.

The Whole Verse

Before practicing Kiai Husein’s interpretation, it might be better if the whole verse is displayed so that both can read and consider the interpretation later.  Here is the verse.

 الرجال قوامون على النساء بما فضل الله بعضهم على بعض وبما أنفقوا من أموالهم فالصالحات قانتات حافظات للغيب بما حفظ الله واللاتي تخافون نشوزهن فعظوهن واهجروهن في المضاجع واضربوهن فإن أطعنكم فلا تبغوا عليهن سبيلا إن الله كان عليا كبيرا [النساء: 34]

We use the most widespread translation in Indonesia, namely the 2002 Ministry of Religion translation. Indeed, there is a newer translation from the Ministry of Religion, namely 2019, but this translation is not like the 2002 translation in terms of its widespread.  In the translation, this verse is translated:

Men (husbands) are protectors for women (wives), because Allah has favored some of them (men) over others (women), and because they (men) have provided a living from their wealth. So pious women are those who obey (to Allah) and take care of themselves when (her husband) is not around, because Allah has taken care of (them) [Allah has made it mandatory for husbands to have good intercourse with their wives]. 

The women you worry about nusyuz [leaving obligations as a wife, such as leaving the house without her husband’s permission], you should advise them, leave them in bed (separate beds), and (if necessary) beat them.  But if they obey you, then do not look for reasons to trouble them.  Indeed, Allah is Most High, Most Great.

Men Are Superior As Protectors of Women

With this verse the culture that favors men over women will say that men are superior as protectors of women [al-rijal qawwamun ‘ala al-nisa].  The reason for this superiority is because it is Allah who gives primacy to men over women [bi ma faddalallah ba’dahum ‘ala ba’d] and because men provide for women. Thus, a woman who leaves the house without her husband’s permission needs to be ordered even at certain times to be beaten.  This needs to be applied by every Muslim.  Look at how women seem to be marginalized if this is the interpretation.  Let’s see how Kiai Husein applies the principles that have been explained so that the interpretation of this verse does not exclude or oppress women.

How Kiai Husein Applies The Principles

First, this verse is a Medina verse which, according to Kiai Husein, is a special verse.  Specific verses need to be interpreted or read with universal verses.  According to Kiai Husein, the universal verses include al-Hujurat: 13 and al-Taubah: 71. Al-Hujurat asserts that humans were created from male and female [inna khalaqnakum min zakar wa unsa]. 

Men and women are equal.  Al-Taubah: 71 confirms that believing men and believing women are close friends who help each other [wa al-mu’minun wa al-mu’minat ba’duhum auliya’ ba’d]. So, [arrijal qawwamun ‘ala al-nisa’] does not mean that men are superior to women.  Likewise with [faddalallah ba’dahum ‘ala ba’d].

Second, this verse is a description of society at that time (khabari). Not a guidance verse that must be applied as it is (talabi).  Beating in that culture and era was still considered normal. It was not appropriate to apply it to a time and culture that did not consider wife beating normal.

Third in reinterpreting the Qur’an, Kiai Husein quoted a hadith about Habibah bin Zaid.  In the hadith Habibah was beaten by her husband.  The Prophet invited Habibah to reply.  Thus, this verse is an initial step moving towards curbing the beatings, and gradually removing them.

The journal article for this review can be read at

Rahman, Yusuf.  “Feminist Kyai, K.H.  Husein Muhammad: The Feminist Interpretation on Gendered Verses. And the Qur’an-Based Activism.”  al-Jami’ah: Journal of Islamic Studies 55, no.  2 (2017): 293–326.

Similar Posts