From Issue: 967 [Read full issue]

Divine Gender

A pronoun is only a function of language. It does not convey or express gender politics. The trouble is, of course, when we choose one pronoun of the English three, some people take it literally. I don't believe God/Allah is female. On the contrary, I think God transcends gender. So the only way to remind myself (and others) of this is to use all of the English pronouns, but especially to use 'She'. We are so comfortable with using 'He' with Allah that we slip into thinking Allah is male, a literal 'He'.

If we take 'He' unquestionably, then we should be able to take 'She' equally unquestionably — but we don't. That's why we need to use 'She' more often. A pronoun is a certain kind of marker in language, not the essence of the divine.

Arabic-speaking people take the gender of "things" literally: they start giving social or anthropological characteristics to inanimate objects. The table is feminine and they start making a social analysis of why it is feminine. Oddly enough, in Arabic, the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine. Think about that for a minute. We tend to think in opposite gender terms about the sun and the moon in English. But it is not literal; it's a metaphor.

It's true the Quran only uses the Arabic masculine (singular) pronoun and not the feminine. But that's not literal either. The Quran uses the first-person singular, 'I' and 'Me' for Allah, and also uses the first-person plural, 'We' and 'Us'. However, no one ever takes that literally, proposing that Allah is more than one! In fact, they make excuses for this occurrence in the sacred text. They give reasons for not taking it literally ("It's the royal we"). However, many people get literal about the pronoun 'He' — they get crazy about it.

The Quran says laysa ka mithlihi shayun: "there is no thing like Him." It also says wa min kulli shayun khalaqnaa zawjayn: "(from) all things We have created (in) pairs." Thus pairedness is a characteristic of that which is created. Here the word shay means "created thing or the thing-ness of creation." But Allah is not created and does not share in this paired reality; either by the dualism of it or even by being one part of a pair, implying the relationship of being in opposition. This is not a characteristic of the Creator. Pretty straightforward if you think about it. But since we as human beings have been affected by patriarchy, then we reflect that onto God/Allah. The divine cannot have gender.

Compiled From:
"The 99 Names: Allah is not He or She" - Amina Wadud