Gender biased interpretation of the Quran : contextualizing 4:5 and the meaning of the term "sufahā'"




Mohammed, Yassir Ibrahim

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In medieval and modern writings about Islam, significant attention has been given to women and women-related issues in the Quran and the Quranic interpretations of verses. People, especially women, find some of these elucidations sexist and biased, and say that they do not accurately portray the intention of Islam or the Quran for women in society. Specifically, when scholars deem women sufahā’, or “weak-minded,” they leave women out of the conversation and subject women to patriarchal and misogynistic interpretations of their place in society. This thesis will investigate the trends within the schools of exegesis to determine how the scholars talk about the Quran 4:5 and the term sufahā’ within it. I examine different interpretations of this verse, both medieval and modern, in order to assess the extent to which exegetes identified women with the sufahā’, and if so, then by what reasoning. I argue that misogynistic/gender-biased interpretations of Q 4:5 are not the majority voices within the scholarship, and instead the patriarchy and misogynistic tendencies of the modern discussion have been projected back to earlier opinions. In this re-writing of the past, prominent scholars’ voices have been lost as certain modern scholars have disseminated marginal voices and presented them as the majority. In order to demonstrate my findings, first, I contextualize the verse and the surah where the verse is found. Second, I survey the positioning of medieval and modern tafsīr by examining prominent books of Muslim scholars that are still referenced today, and look specifically at their interpretations of Quran 4:5 and the logic they used to determine who the sufahā’ were. These writings demonstrate that the majority of exegetes and jurists discuss the sufahā’ as both men and women, and not solely women as some modern and medieval presented it many times. I conclude that historically some scholars have interpreted sufahā’ to be solely women, but the majority of prominent scholars, like āl-Ṭabarī, define sufahā’ based on behavior and not on gender.


LCSH Subject Headings