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Historical Contextualization Methodology

Aysha A. Hidayatullah conducts the first thorough overview of contemporary feminist Qur’anic interpretation, showcasing the dynamic challenges it poses to Islamic tradition and modern Muslim perspectives on the Qur’an. She does not provide definitive answers but instead encompasses the new ways to relate to the Qur’an made possible by uncertainty.

Hidayatullah categorizes feminist exegesis into three broad methodological approaches: historical contextualization, tawhid paradigm, and intratextual analysis. Hidayatullah explains that the historical contextualization method entails looking into the circumstances surrounding the revelation of a verse, distinguishing between specific and universal verses, differentiating between prescriptive and descriptive verses in the Qur’an, and finally attempting to identify historical circumstances that formed the backstory of revelation in seventieth-century Arabia and successive Qur’anic exegesis. A historical reading of the Qur’an does not confine its meaning to the period immediately after it was revealed; it allows it to be read in light of constantly shifting historical contexts and thus makes the Qur’an universally applicable. As a result, the Qur’an’s universality can be shown by contextualizing it. Her argument is based on a modernist interpretation of classical asbab al-nuzul literature. In the view of feminist exegetes, tafsir’s greatest challenge stems from the assumption that a verse is either descriptive or prescriptive.

The feminist Qur’an interpretation methodology of historical contextualization is critical for dealing with Quranic texts that present difficulties in a variety of ways. According to Hidayatullah, a feminist exegesis of the Qur’an has used the historical contextualization method to make sense of numerous “problematic pronouncements,” especially those that appear to advocate patriarchy or advance a vision fundamentally contradicting the emphasis on male-female equality espoused by Muslim feminists. The Qur’an, according to Wadud, was written in a patriarchal society, but it does not impose these characteristics on its readers in the present or even in the future. While the Qur’an makes reference to deteriorating conditions for women, this would not imply that they have been mandatory for its readers.

By emphasizing prescriptive rather than descriptive language, feminist exegetes can show that seemingly patriarchal verses in the Qur’an were simply describing a seventh-century Arabian scenario, rather than emphasizing that such conditions were divinely prescribed. This is a critical component of the historical contextualization method. A feminist exegesis claims that even when certain behaviors or actions would seem to be prescribed, the instant revelatory context of seventh-century Arabia must be interpreted as culturally specific rather than as universally prescribed ideals. Consequently, feminist exegetes place emphasis on the Qur’anic history.

Additionally, feminist exegetes have used another significant strategy to “undo” patriarchal Qur’anic readings. This strategy is evident in the emphasis placed on the “paternalistic” and “culturally specific” situations of the classical Quran exegetes, the majority of whom were men. Thus, contemporary feminist exegetes are tasked with the responsibility of “rescuing” the Qur’an’s “true, essence” from this deleterious tradition. Hidayatullah is an outspoken opponent of this position. According to her, the inconsistent implementation and examination of hadith exemplify a methodological inconsistency all through the corpus of feminist tafsir works. This inconsistency significantly complicates historical readings of the Qur’an, as the cause data to contextualize the verses reread by exegetes is deduced largely directly or indirectly from hadith. Even when exegetes avoid tracing historical contexts, they make specific references to reports.

In conclusion, by delving into feminist exegetes’ conceptions of the Quranic text’s nature, Hidayatullah demonstrates this school of thought’s vehement opposition to authoritarian interpretations that seek to “lock” the text’s meaning into a particular interpretation and equate it with God’s will or knowledge. More importantly, Hidayatullah illustrates that several Qur’anic exegetes emphasize that, because the Qur’an is a form of revelation organized around human language, it cannot encapsulate all divine meaning completely.


Hidayatullah, A. A. (2014). Feminist Edges of the Qur’an. Oxford University Press, USA.


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