The Reformist Muslimah’s Ecyclopedia

THE REFORMIST MUSLIMAH’S ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Principle of Thoughts for Reinterpretation and Actions, first published in July of 2019 by Dian Rakyat consisting of 772 pages with 16 chapters.

Sometime later, the revised edition of this Encyclopedia was published by BACA in March of 2020, with 863 pages consisting of 17 chapters. The addition to this revised edition was a chapter on Becoming an Agent of Economic Driver. This was in response to a request from a number of readers who perceived the importance of a discourse on women and the economy. I truly appreciate the suggestions of the readers and thus added the issue of economy in women’s lives, particularly in marginalized groups such as fisherwomen.

The choice of the title, The Reformist Muslimah’s Encyclopedia, although containing the word “Muslimah”, does not mean that the book is only about Female Muslims. In fact, it doesn’t only discuss women’s issues, but touches on almost all aspects of human beings in all its forms.

The book, consisting of 863 pages, deals with how women deeply appreciate Islam, how women pass themselves as ulamas, and how women strive against violence, and relates women’s great concern with children rights, how women offer solution as well as agenda for Muslim women Movement.

This book tries to open up horizons related to issues of education, democracy, politics, the economy, human right issues, particularly women’s rights, the right of children and the right of religious freedom, religious interpretations, social and cultural issues and others.

My writings are spread across many different books, and a number of people have asked me to compile a book containing my thoughts on a variety of issues so that they can be represented in whole within one book. That is the reason this book has been entitled encyclopedia because its contents bring to light many issues that have so far been a concern of mine.

The term Reformist Muslimah which has become the title of this encyclopedia originates from my previous book, Muslimah Reformis: Perempuan Pembaru Keagamaan (Reformist Muslimah: Women Religious Reformists), published by Mizan in 2004. Some parts of this book have already been published in English.

Some of my colleagues say that the concept of Reformist Muslimah needs to be disseminated because it embodies not only progressive and humanist-feminist progress, but is also relevant with the Islamic society at the present time, especially in view of the strengthening of fundamentalist and radical Islam in Indonesia, and even at the global level. Muslimah Reformis reflects major humanitarian ideas as the essence of Islam.

The term Muslimah connotes Muslim women who are dynamic and are always active in laying the foundations of peace, are always committed to respecting and helping fellow human beings to establish good for all creatures.

Muslimah is a woman who has a strong spiritual and moral quality, reflected from their daily attitudes. They dedicate their lives purely to obtain blessings from God by spreading kindness and love to fellow human beings, and even to all creatures in the universe (rahmatan lil alamin).

The word reformist in the Arabic language is mushlihah, not mujaddidah which is usually related to reforms in ideas, generally only at the conceptual level, not followed up by actions. Mushlihah, is synonymous with shalihah, but has a deeper meaning. It means a woman who is active, dynamic and steadfast in carrying out reforms in order to improve and enhance the quality of herself, her family and community towards a more positive and constructive direction, with the aim to create a civilized society, baldah thayyibah wa Rabbun ghafurMushlihah or reformist refers to a human being that actively carries out reforms or social changes (social movements) and generates work that can become a legacy for future generations.

The Tauhid is the basic characteristic of a Reformist Muslimah. The Tauhid reminds human beings to devote themselves to Allah SWT, to eliminate slavery and all forms of discrimination, exploitation and violence. It is a reminder to humanize human beings and establish good for fellow human beings and the universe. It reminds men to not enslave women, and in turn reminds women to not subjugate themselves to men, because both are equal as God’s creations.

A Reformist Muslimah has at least the five following characteristics: Moral integrity because she embodies and implements in a kaaffah way the essence of the tauhid; she has empathy and a humanitarian sense of responsibility; she cares about the vulnerable and oppressed; she is a role model, is innovative and creative, and has a depth of love for her homeland and cares for the conservation of the environment.

A Reformist Muslimah is not a woman who is fascinated by symbols of Islam that have presently become a commodity of capitalist groups, nor is she a woman who bases her actions on the mere formalities and legalities of religion.

A Reformist Muslimah is discerned through her will and actions in carrying out humanitarian works that provide benefits, blessings and mercy, not only for fellow human beings, but also for all creatures in the universe.

A Reformist Muslimah values and implements the vision of human creation as khalifah fil ardh, namely an agent of change or leader or manager who establish peace and prosperity on earth. In addition to that, she also tries to implement the mission of Islam namely: amar ma’ruf nahy munkar, meaning transformational efforts towards a more positive and constructive direction, as well as humanization by way of various activities such as education, publications and advocacy, ect.

A Reformist Muslimah as an agent of social change brings about social changes through women’s movements to carry out reforms in accordance with the guidance of the Al-Quran and Sunnah interpreted with a humanist-feminist perspective. It is hoped that the concept of a Reformist Muslimah can become a social movement for women (Reformative Social Movement). The targeted social changes embrace everyone towards a just and civilized society. The strategy of the movement is through Gender Mainstreaming.

The revised edition of this book comprises 17 chapters as follows: 1) Education to humanize humans; 2) Establish a harmony family through marriage; 3) Adopt family planning; 4) Polygamy impedes a harmonious family; 5) Why we choose a democratic system; 6) Upholding Human Rights; 7) Advocate for the Right of Children; 8) Women’s Rights are no less important; 9) Difficulties in establishing gender equality; 10) Building political power that is pro-women; 11) Becoming agents of economic development;  12) Battling radicalism and terrorism; 13) Protecting religious freedom for all; 14) Fighting to eliminate violence;  15) Jihad towards establishing peace; 16) Offering a humanist-feminist interpretation; and 17) How to formulate the transformative lectures or dakwah.

The additional chapter in this revised edition presents a portrait of women’s experiences as agents of economic development. The chapter begins with a presentation of implementation of gender equality in public procurement of goods and services to stories of fisherwomen in Indonesia. This part criticizes cultural, structural and interpretation of religious teachings regarding women’s participation in the economy as agents of economic development. It further speaks about the moral message contained in the economic activities of a Muslimah (the wife of the Prophet saw), the basic principles of economic activities in Islam, and concrete efforts of an Islamic state to empower women in the economy and the proposal of Islamic law reform regarding inheritance of women.

This book is compiled using a feminist research method, namely a methodological and epistemological formulation based on my experiences as a woman in efforts to realize gender equity and equality. I also use feminist and praxis theories based on activism for social change.

In many discussions, I pose new questions about the lives of women and other groups (marginalized groups) which ultimately result in efforts to produce new and rich understandings (multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary).

In general, what this book tries to do is to address a variety of discrimination and violence against women at different levels of life. It tries to present actual problems of power relation that is operating within the reality of women’s lives. It provides solutions for the advancement of women’s rights at various levels based on religion. It strengthens the identity of Muslimahs as defenders of Human Rights, gender equity and equality, pluralism and peace in all sectors of life.


Why is the concept of a Reformist Muslimah important?

There are at least two reasons for this. Firstly, the emergence of disruptions or rapid and drastic changes in social life due to advanced science and technology, particularly digital technology. All this results in a great impact, particularly in religious issues. Humans are feeling even more alienated and marginalized, so much, so that many are experiencing disorientation and have lost direction. Secondly, globalization, particularly following the Arab Spring incident that uses social media on a massive scale to spread hoaxes and hate speeches. The explosion of information containing hoax and slander has given rise to unrest and social frictions that polarize society and causes long lasting horizontal conflicts.

This book is born in a post-truth era, in the midst of a strengthening of literalist and conservative religious views that tend to be intolerant. This can be seen from the diversity of society that tends to dissociate rational thinking from the issue of faith. It is unsurprising that we often find society’s religious stance and attitude that are irrational, exclusive and intolerant, and even giving rise to acts of radicalism and violent extremism that tend to lead to acts of terrorism.

It responds to the current situation where religious fundamentalism is rampant, literalist and conservative religious views are on the rise, which distances human beings from rational thinking, so that humans tend to become exclusive, intolerant, and radical. It reminds us that religious doctrines as the basis for religious institutionalization are a product of human thinking that is relative rather than absolute in nature. At the same time, it encourages us to implement religious thinking that emphasizes common sense, critical reasoning, and puts importance on human welfare and interest, because essentially, religion ultimately ends in efforts to humanize humans. It promotes awareness of human rights for all, women and men, so that the implementation of gender equity and equality, particularly through education and advocacy of policies at all levels. Its further stresses on the importance of teachings of Islam that are humanistic, gender responsive, and upholds the principle of self-freedom, concern and cooperation for the good of all.

This book does not only offer a discourse, but also concrete solutions that can be found in its last two chapters. Firstly, it provides a Humanist-Feminist Interpretation: on the importance of reinterpretation of religious texts through a perspective on gender equity and equality, by presenting alternative interpretations. Among those are interpretation of a woman’s leadership, the meaning of jihad and hijab, children marriage (unrecorded) and Domestic Violence and so on.

Secondly, it offers Transformative Dakwah (lectures) that stresses on strengthening of Morality and Spirituality, to act as a bridge between religions, mutual good, and humanitarian welfare, as well as a fundamental fellowship. For example, in the interpretation of the wearing of hijab, my understanding of it tends to be humanistic, where the moral message of that verse is of spiritual piety. The essence of donning hijab is for self-control from sexual urges and to shield oneself from amoral acts. Hijab is not related to clothing per se, but if emphasizes more on the moral quality of a woman. In the historical context of the verse, hijab is declared as an instrument to distinguish between free women and enslaved women, and as such this instrument is no longer relevant in the current era. The universal distinguishing instrument is morality, and no longer things that are symbolic and particular.

It is the same with Islamic interpretation of the polygamy. The mention of the number of wives which is four in the verse of the Al-Qur’an, cannot be understood as a recommendation to practice polygamy. That verse should be taken as a historic record of traditions and social conditions of the pre-Islam Arab society or the Jahiliyah era. At that time, men generally had many wives and female slaves. This text should be read as a form as social criticism. The fact is that the practice of polygamy generated in injustice for wives and children, and even for the extended family. The solution offered by this verse is a form of a monogamous marriage. In other words, this verse that has so long been understood as a verse on polygamy, when interpreted through a humanist-feminist perspective should apparently be understood as a criticism towards the practice of polygamy during the Jahiliyah era.

I am fully aware that religion should help human beings understand themselves and prevent the process of dehumanization that is in contradiction with the principles of human dignity. A conservative and radical religious implementation is frequently disadvantageous towards human dignity which in turn results in the destruction of human civilization. I do hope that this book is able to enlighten human beings so that they are averted from such a dehumanization process.