— Hasan al Basri (rahimahullah)
“Al-Nisa,” I said. “There are some parts in it where men are said to be superior to women. It even says men can beat their wives…”
“Is that so?” Shams asked with an exaggerated interest that I couldn’t be sure whether he was serious or teasing me. After a momentary silence, he broke into a soft smile and out of memory recited the verse.
“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah had guarded; and (as to) those whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them, surely Allah is High, Great.”
When he finished, Shams closed his eyes and recited the same verse, this time in a different translation.
“Men are the support of women as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). So women who are virtuous are obedient to God and guard the hidden as God has guarded it. As for women who feel averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing). If they open out to you, do not seek an excuse for blaming them. Surely God is sublime and great.”
“Do you see any difference between the two?” Shams asked.
“Yes I do,” I said. “There whole texture is different. The former sounds if it gives consent for married men to beat their wives, whereas the latter advises them to simply walk away. I think that is a big difference. Why is that?”
“Why is that? Why is that?” Shams echoed several times, as if enjoying the question. “Tell me something, Kimya. Have you ever gone swimming in a river?”
I nodded as a childhood memory returned to me. The cold, thirst quenching streams of the Taurus Mountains crossed my mind. Of the younger girl who had spent many happy afternoons in those streams with her sister and her friends, there was now a little left behind. I turned my face away and I didn’t want Shams to see the tears in my eyes.
“When you look at a river from a distance, Kimya, you might think there is only one watercourse. But if you dive into the water, you’ll realize there is more than one river. The river conceals various currents, all of them flowing harmony and yet completely separate from one another.”
Upon saying that, Shams of Tabriz approached me and chin between his two fingers, forcing me to look in his dark soulful eyes. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t even breathe.
“The Qur’an is a gushing river,” he said. “Those who look at it from a distance see only one river. But for those swimming in it, there are four currents. Like different types of fish, some of us swim closer to the surface while some in deep waters below.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I said, although I was beginning to.
“Those who like to swim close to the surface are content with the outer meaning of the Qur’an. Many people are like that. They take verse too literally. No wonder when they read a verse like the Nisa, they arrive at the conclusion that men are held superior to women. Because that is exactly what they want to see.”
“How about the other currents?” I asked.
Shams sighed softly, and I couldn’t help noticing his mouth, as mysterious and inviting as a secret garden.
“There are three more currents, the second one is deeper than the first, but still close to the surface, as your awareness expands, so does your grasp for the Qur’an. But for that to happen you need to take the plunge.”
Listening to him, I felt both empty and fulfilled at the same time.
“What happens when you take the plunge?” I asked cautiously.
“The third undercurrent is esoteric, batini, reading. If you read the Nisa with your inner eye open, you’ll see that verse is not about women and men but about womanhood and manhood. And each and every one of us, including you and me, has both femininity and masculinity in us, in varying degrees and shades. Only when we learn to embrace both can we attain harmonious Oneness.”
“Are you telling me that I have manliness inside me?”
“Oh, yes, definitely, and I have a female side, too.”
I couldn’t help chuckle. And Rumi? How about him?”
Shams smiled fleetingly. “Every man has a degree of womanliness inside.”
“Even the ones who are manly men?”
“Especially those, my dear,” Shams said, garnishing his words with a wink and dropping his voice to a whisper, as If sharing a secret."
Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love
I read this book when it first came out and it was the kind of book that made you feel at peace with the world for at least a week. Coming across this passage again makes me feel that same feeling.muslimwomeninhistory)