The Justice of Divine Judgement

Wadud also explores the Qur’an’s apocalyptic depictions of the world to come. While she challenges classical and medieval commentators on the origins of humankind and the events of the Garden, she actually affirms their readings when it comes to the Day of Judgement, observing that there is ‘an unusual consensus among the commentators with regard to the absence of male/female distinctions in the Qur’anic accounts of Judgement and recompense’.[1] This is a telling example of how her criticism of the exegetical tradition is hardly a sweeping one, categorically dismissing all prior reflections on the Qur’an, but rather a nuanced critique, problematizing those interpretations that undermine the full humanity of women. As Wadud notes, because the Qur’anic text is so explicit that equal recompense will be given to men and women—such as Q. 3:195: ‘Lo! I suffer not the work of any worker, male or female, to be lost. You proceed one from another’[2]—it is, in fact, quite difficult to privilege men over women when discussing the Day of Judgement.[3] Significantly, the key term that the Qur’an uses with reference to death and the Hereafter, she points out, is that of the gender-neutral soul (nafs), which will be brought before its Creator to stand judgement, thereby transcending the sexual distinctions associated with the human body.[4] She cites Q. 21:47, among others,102 to illustrate the text’s emphasis on the soul when describing the world to come. The verse reads:

We shall fix the scales of justice on the Day of Resurrection, and no soul will be wronged in the least; and even if it were equal to the weight of a mustard seed, We shall take it (into account). We suffice as reckoners.

So not only does the Final Day reflect the absolute justice of God, who will take every action into account ‘even if it were equal to the weight of a mustard seed’, but by focussing on the soul over the body, this verse also implicitly underscores this deity’s refusal to differentiate between men and women, elevating the former over the latter.

Like Esack and Engineer, a deep-seated conviction in the inherent justice of the Creator lies at the heart of Wadud’s Islamic discourse. Citing verses like Q. 10:44—‘Surely God does not wrong anyone; they wrong themselves’—she argues that God does not commit acts of injustice, but rather it is humankind who perpetrates oppression.[5] In fact, her very choice of ‘Wadud’—one of the ninety-nine names of God and which she defines as ‘the Loving God of Justice’[6]—as a family name upon converting to Islam reflects her abiding belief in God’s endless compassion and commitment to justice. And it is precisely because God is just, concludes Wadud, that divine judgement is based solely on taqwa (literally, piety), denoting one’s level of God-consciousness and how this spiritual consciousness, in turn, translates into ethical action.[7] Referring to Q. 49:13, she writes that taqwa is the chief criterion that differentiates one human being from another.[8] This verse, which has become a seminal passage in women’s gender egalitarian readings of Islamic texts, is provided below:

O humankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. The noblest among you in the eyes of God are the most pious among you. Indeed, God is all-Knowing, all-Aware.

Furthermore, God alone has the ability to gauge one’s level of taqwa and thus to render judgement, cautions Wadud, and not other human beings.[9] Given the centrality of taqwa in the Qur’an, her usage of this concept as an organizing principle of gender-just exegesis is a persuasive interpretive move. Indeed, Rahman, in his pioneering study of the text, entitled Major Themes of the Qur’an (1980), noted that taqwa is arguably the single most important term in the entire scripture.[10] In her emphasis on taqwa, Wadud shares common ground with Esack who, as already seen in the second chapter, also uses taqwa—which he defines as ‘integrity and awareness in relation to the presence of God’—as a hermeneutical key in his liberationist

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  • [1] Ibid, 51.
  • [2] Q. 40:40 is another example of how divine justice will be meted out equally tothe sexes on the Day of Judgement, explicitly mentioning women alongside men.
  • [3] Ibid. 4 Ibid, 46.
  • [4] These include Q. 3:185-6, 39:42, and 81:1-7.
  • [5] Wadud, ‘Towards a Qur’anic Hermeneutics of Social Justice’, 46. She also citesQ. 9:70, 29:40, and 30:9.
  • [6] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 2. The famous ninety-nine names of God canbe found in the Qur’an and denote various divine attributes, such as al-Rahim (theCompassionate), al-Ghafur (the Forgiving), and al-Malik (the King). The name al-Wadud, conventionally defined as the Loving, appears twice in the text (Q. 11:90,85:14).
  • [7] Wadud, Qur’an and Woman, 36-7. 4 Ibid.
  • [8] 107 Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 185.
  • [9] 108 Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an, 28-9. The first edition of this book was
  • [10] published in 1980.
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