This chapter is the first of four examples of Qur’anic interpretation which shows how the context influences the interpretation. While in some cases this influence may be very clear, in other cases it can be somewhat subtle. This first example is one where this influence is obvious. The question of equality of men and women has been one of the most

strongly debated issues in contemporary Islamic thought. Many textualists argue that the Qur’an gives men more rights than it gives women. This textualist approach relies heavily on pre-modern interpretations of a few Qur’anic texts. Although such a view of “unequal equality” may have been acceptable in the pre-modern period and would have been in line with the macro context of the period, Muslims who adopt a contextualist framework argue that the macro context of today is so different from that of the pre-modern period that a fresh interpretation is needed of the Qur’anic texts that were used in the pre-modern period to justify inequality of women. This chapter examines approaches to a text of the Qur’an1 that has been central to debates on issues of gender and equality in Islam. It reads:

Husbands should take good care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others [bi ma-faddala alla-hu bacdahum cala bacd] and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives (sa-liha-t) are devout (qa-nita-t) and guard (ha-fiza-t li al-ghayb) what God would have them guard in their husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness [nushu-z] from your wives, remind them [of the teachings of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them: God is most high and great.