Minggu, 07 Mei 2017

Amplifying Women Ulama's Voices, Asserting Values of Islam, Nationhood and Humanity

“…In 19th century AD, there is Queen Aisyah We Tenri Olle, Queen Tanete in South Sulawesi who ruled for 55 years (1855-1910 AD). With her mother, she saved the ancient manuscript “I La Galigo”, an epic of world heritage, written in the 13th to 15th century AD on palm leaves. This manuscript is longer than the epic Mahabharata.


From the Riau Islands, there was Queen Aisyah binti Raja Sulaiman (1870s-1924 AD), a prolific writer in her teens. She was very critical to address injustice against women. It reflected in her literary works; “Hikayat Syamsul Anwar” or “Malikatu Badrul Munir”; “Syair Khadamuddin” (published in 1926); “Syair Seligi Tajam Bertimbal”; “Hikayat Syariful Aktar” (published in 1929)…” (Opening Speech of Badriyah Fayumi, Coordinator of KUPI)

According to the history of Islamic scholarship and civilization, the role of female ulama in researching the teaching of Islam, spreading Islamic text to believers and bringing the Islamic teaching into concreate action on public education were obviously documented well. The Congress on Islamic Women Ulama (KUPI), that was innitiated to get a momentum to reconfirm the existance of female ulama in the history of Islamic scholarship as well as to reclaim the term “ulama” that used exclusively associated to men, and a space to them to promote their public opinion on women’s rights in Islam. To begin with International Seminar on Women Ulama, that co-hosted by AMAN Indonesia, KUPI and IAIN Syekh Nurjati Cirebon, held in April 25th 2017, this conference was aimed to provide exchange opportunities about the role of women ulamas in other muslim societies in different countries. Moreover, it was meant to share the historical moment of KUPI to female ulama, researchers, and practitioners overseas to not only witness women ulama in Indonesia in crafting her history in the islamic civilization, and start change from Indonesian tradition, but to spread the message to the world.


Attended by 298 participants representing women ulama, researchers, pratitioners on women’s rights in Islam, Peace and Development, the conference was able to invite 31 representatives from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Bangledesh, India, Pakistan, Netherland, Afghanistan, USA, Kenya, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. The theme “Amplifying the voices of women ulama, Asserting values of Islam, nationhood and humanity” was aimed to dig conceptual and practial experiences of women ulama in engaging to discourse of women’s rights in Islam, radicalism and nationbuilding.

Women Ulama in The History of Islamic Civilization

To summary from the opening speech of Badriyah Fayumi, Coordinator of KUPI, It is clearly stated that the existance of female ulama were well recognized and documented by male authors. In the islamic civilization, from the 2nd to 5th Hijri centuries, there were only ten women were recognized as diseminator of religious knowledge. Many big Imams were thought by female ulama. For instance  Nafisah bint al-Hasan (208 H / 824 AD) who taught the hadith to Imam of Shafi'i. Ummu Umar ats-Tsaqafiyah taught the hadith to Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. Badriyah Fayumi, in her opening remark also mentioned that the contribution of female ulama in the knowledge building of Islamic civilization are recognized by many writers such as in the 8th Century, Ibn Hajarta has recorded 168 female disseminator of religions, givers, and recipients of ijazah. He made specific study on 33 female teachers. In the 9th Century, H. As-Sakhawi has documented about 405 pious female teachers and disseminator of Islamic teaching. Unfotunately, the number of female ulama taking active role in the building of Islamic scholarship declined dramatically. 

In Indonesia, the female ulama has contributed to plant a foundation of education, nationbuilding and humanity. In the 17th century AD, there was Sultanah Tajul Alam Safiatuddin Johan Berdaulat (Sultanah of Aceh Darussalam for 34 years, from 1641 - 1674 AD). This legendary Sultanah mastered Arabic, Persian, Spanish and Urdu, as well as Jurisprudence (Fiqh), Literature, History, Science of Logic (Mantiq), Philosophy etc. Several books of the great scholars, like Syekh Nur al-Din ar-Raniry and Syekh Abdurrauf as-Sinkily, were written at the request of the Sultanah. She also became a reference of women's success in leading the country so that it opened the way of leadership for the three other Sultanah in Aceh Darussalam for the next period.

There was also Queen Sinuhun (1642 AD), the wife of the King of the Palembang Darussalam Sultanate who has a monumental work "The Book of the Simbur Light ", which is a written law, a blend of customary and Islamic law.  There is heavy penalty for men who harrased women, the law is believed to be her legacy. In 18th century AD, there was Fatimah al-Banjary, the first grandchild of Shaykh Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari (1710 AD). There is one popular Malay Arabic book in Banjar and Malay and has become a reference for religion and worship until now, namely "Perukunan Jamaluddin" or "Perukunan Besar" or "Perukunan Melayu". According to Martin van Bruinessen's research, this book was written by Shaykhah Fatimah.

We also recognized Siti Walidah / Nyai Ahmad Dahlan (1872-1946 AD), the national hero, the great preacher, teacher and activist from Muhammadiyah who founded Sopo Tresno and then Aisyiyah. Rohana Koedoes (1884-1972 AD) from Minang who manifested her commitment to women's empowerment through education, journalism and economic empowerment. She founded the Amai Setia Craft School in Koto Gadang and Rohana School in Bukit Tinggi she founded "Rohana School". Shedisseminated her ideas through her self-published newspaper in 1912, “Sunting Melayu”, as well as the newspaper “Cahaya Sumatera”.

Still from the land of Minang, there was HR Rasuna Said (1910-1965 AD), the national hero of Indonesia whose name is used as the name of one of big protocol roads in Jakarta. She was a political, movement, education and journalism activist, founded Thawalib Puteri School and Puteri College. She published and directed the “Raya” and “Menara Puteri” newspapers, led the female troops (Laskar Rakyat). Her political activities continued until the end of her life. The women ulama from Minang whose name is shining and her footsteps are progressing until now is Rahmah El-Yunusiyah (1900-1969 AD). At the age of 23 she founded and led the first boarding school (madrasah) for women in Indonesia, Diniyah Puteri in Padang Panjang. Rahmah persistence in the field of education invited admiration of the Rector Al Azhar University, Cairo, who visited in 1955. Inspired by Diniyah Puteri, Al-Azhar opened Kulliyyatul Banat, and in 1957 Rahmah was awarded the title Shaykhah by Al Azhar Cairo. From Jombang, East Java, there was Nyai Khoiriyah Hasyim. She mastered ulum ad-din and exceled in managing education and skills. She founded the boarding school (Madrasah Lil Banat) in Makkah Al Mukarramah, and became the teacher there. 

Refering to those historical documentation on the works of female ulama, the KUPI was also efforts in consolidating history and actors working in maintreaming gender in the islamic scholarship begining 1980s. KUPI is confidenced to promote to public about the diverse roles of women ulama in many fields such as education, environemental rehabilitation, peacebuilding, direct service for women victim of violence against women etc. In the end, there was great expectation to use “fatwa” of KUPI to support advocacy on some of women’s issues that has been not successful due to rejection of male ulama over the content that they dont understand. The urgency of women ulama to speak about their position and perception on compatibility of women’s rights in Islam, as an alternative voices outside Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI), which often released conservative-minded Fatwa, we hope KUPI would be able to represent the voices of victim and survivor of violence agaisnt women, in which 3 among 5 women in Indonesia have experience on violence by her intimate partners (reported by KOMNAS Perempuan)

Women Ulama, Muslim Communities and State 

Moderated by Kamala Chandrakirana, this 2st plenary session was intended to explore the role of women ulama across the globe in working with gender based violence, women’s empowemrent, conflict transformation and also movement building to strengthen collective voices in confronting gender injustice, radicalism and global security. Zainah Anwar from Malaysia brought the experiences of Sister in Islam (SIS) and the movement building called Musawah as global platform of collective action for women ulama, scholars and pratitioners in challenging patrichal perspective in interpretation of religious text. Zainah believed by looking at equality and justice in the family, and applying international and national instrument of human rights, a change in community and society will take place. 

Dr. Siti Ruhaini, from UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, a female commisioner of the Independent Permanent Human Right Commission (IPHRC), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), shared her personal journey in maintreaming gender into structure of OIC, through IPHRC establishment and diplomatic works in maintreaming gender perspective in system and culture of OIC. Reforms are gradually taking place from the acceptance of female commisioners, building culture of contructive introspective approach, integrating human rights principles in OIC that reflect the values of Islam which believes on equality, love, compassion, anti discrimination and non vilolence action. Dr. Ruhaini believes that the development of some national acts on violence against women in some arab countries like Saudi Arabia, indicating that a good example in negotiating Islam, democracy and human rights are continuing. 

Bushra Qadeem, one of founder of PAIMAN Foundation, Pakistan, currently running school of rehabilitation of ex combatant who were recruited by Taliban. She believes that the rising violent extremism made women’s lives in Pakistan in general and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and FATA in particular more miserable by restricting their mobility, barring girls from attending schools, harassing women without men escort in public places and denying them access to health facilities. Believing that there can be no effective prevention against violent extremism without the involvement of women as educators, influencers and positive agents of change in their families, communities and society PAIMAN introduced a framework using Quranic text and and empowered these women to start challenging growing religious extremism in their areas.

Hatoon Al-Fasi (Saudi Arabia), highlighted the important role of the work of documentation and translation over women friendly islamic interpretation that wrote by one of center in Al-Azhar. Unlike in Indonesia, the existance of women ulama in Egypt and Saudi Arabia are least documented and recognized because male domination over Islamic Scholarship development. But now, there is gradually shifting paradigm in looking at the strategic and tactical need of women that need to be approach using integration of religious text and human rights principles. 

To conclude, the strunggle of women ulama in creating a change has been expanding from creating methodology on reinterpretaiton that is much more gender sensitive, crafting the new knowledge to religious leaders/ ulama, applying to build collective action at national and global level, as well as advocating inside the structure by changing perspective of policy makers. In fact, untill now women ulama and practitioners of women empowerment and advancement of women’s rights are facing strong resistance when it come to area of religion. For instance the debate of concept of hijab/ jilbab in country to country raised different interpretation in the area of limitation of hijab, but not big principles in Islam that “there is no compulsion in the religion” that indicates that forcing women to wear hijab is totally contradictory with the principle of Islam.

From Talk to Action: Women Ulama Promoting Peace and Justice 

This 2nd plenary session was aimed to provide a exchange space to response global crisis in many muslim countries. Many people believe that poor governance and inadequate economic policies are mix factors causing conflict, religious tension and the phenomenon of violent extremism. UN Secretary General reported that in 19 conflict related countries, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has been used as weapon of war to dehumanize women and defeat enemy. Moreover, thousands of women are forced into sexual slavery, exploitation and violence by Buho Haram, Al-Shabab, ISIS etc. There is growing recognition from expert and policy makers that a limited security-oriented approach is insufficient for addressing the condition that leads to rising of fundamentalism and extremism. Thus, a more holistic approach is needed, where not only civil societies is pro-active engaged with solution, the women ulama in many societies are becoming active agent to promote inclusive interpretation of religious texts and doing direct interventions in dealing with victim of GBV and promote more peaceful societies. 

Moderated by Ruby Kholifah, from AMAN Indonesia, this session brought rich first hand experiences of women ulama and practitioners from Afghanista, Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia in dealing with crisis and conflict. To begin the session, her excelency Ambasador of Afghanistan for Indonesia, Roya Rohmani had highlighted her personal journey on conflict in Afghanistan. Roya remarked to notion of fear that often politized religion in order to marginalize and exclude women from the process of peace talks. One of source of courage is religious text that support the women’s participation in public development. Therefore, she believe that by approaching religion with human rights principles, then we will deconstruct fear and bring narative of love and compassion to provide equal opportunities for women and men in promoting justice. 

Ulfat Husein Masibo from Kenya Muslim Supreme Council told the influence of the formation of Islamic state in Irak, Syria, and some countries to establish Khilafah, to Kenya. ISIS teaching and idea of khilafah has been also influecing the situation in third developong country like Kenya. Moroever, this group is able to intervene to the local group like Bukoharam that also carrying the same agenda on Islamic State. In line with other global movement, Ulfat confessed that intervention in the level of family is crucial. In her experience, preparing couple before marriage with sufficient understanding on Islamic teaching about relations between women and men will contribute alot in prevent any form of violence against women. Ulfat also highlighted some strategies applied with the support of women ulama in Kenya such as pre marriage consultation program, training for madrasah school, women Daawa, mediation of family and community dispute, etc. 

The rising of radicalism and its impact to the exclusion of women was also explained by Dr. Rafatu Abdulhamid, Muslim Women Network Nigeria. In Nigeria, a country that is threatened by the Islamic militants Boko Haram, female ulema have started to get directly involved in education in a bid to spread tolerant Islamic teachings. Muslim women can play better roles than men in teaching and educating young generation about moderate Islam that promote tolerance and upholds peace, not like Bukoharam Islam. Women Ulama in Nigeria also took progressive roles in establishment of education intitution and spread gender sensitive Islamic interpretation, support trauma healing for survivor of gender based violence. She strongly believes that the spreading of radicalism in Nigeria is because of ignorance of goverment towards injustice and inquality, as well as the misuse of islamic text by religious groups supporting Bukoharam.

Finally, the presentation from Aceh by Prof. Eka Srimulayani had given a clear picture of women ulama during the war and in post conflict situation. In the history of Aceh, number of female ulama had documented in the Ensiklopedia of women ulama, including Nyai Khoriyah and Umi Rabiah that considers as women ulama. Unfortunately, the voices of women ulama and their existance is shrinking from the history of Aceh. However, in the post conflict situation, after peace agreement signed  in 2005, it have been limited reference showing the way women ulama negotiating and resisting under the implementation of Syariah Law. 

When public was strongly demanding referendum, the women ulama in collaboration with women activist innitiated Aceh Women Congress in 2000 to collect voices from more than 500 villages to demand peace instread of supporting referendum. In the new era of Syariah Law implementation, women groups were able to promote Aceh Women Charter, where some women ulama took crucial roles in drafting the document. Other negotiation is the presence of Qanun on Women Empowerment and Protection of Children that reflect CEDAW principles inside, and the increasing number of capacity building program for women ulama. In all, Aceh expereince shows dynamics on how local culture and specific socio-political contexts influence the agency, power and authority of female ulama.

To conclude this session, under striction and insecure situation where conservatsm and radicalism spreading in our society, the women ulama from different countries has shown their resistance and agency in dealing between normality and reality of women in the ground. *** 



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