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Early life and career
Hassan was born in Lahore, Pakistan, to an upper-class Sayid Muslim family. Her maternal grandfather was Hakim Ahmad Shuja, a Pakistani poet, writer and playwright. She lived a comfortable childhood, but was affected by the conflict between her father's traditional views and her mother's nonconformism. For most of her life, she hated her father's traditionalism because of his views of sex roles, but she later came to appreciate it because of his kindness and compassion. She attended Cathedral High School, an Anglican missionary school, and later St. Mary's College at Durham University, England, where she studied English and philosophy. She received her Ph.D. from Durham University in 1968 for her thesis on Muhammad Iqbal, who she has written about frequently.
She taught at the University of Punjab at Lahore from 1966 to 1967 and worked in Pakistan's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting from 1969 to 1972. In 1972, she immigrated to the United States with her daughter. She has taught at schools including Oklahoma State University and Harvard University, and is currently a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Louisville.
Theology and activism
Hassan's theology is an example of Progressive Islam; she was one of the first to accept the Islamic feminist label. She says the Qur'an is the "Magna Carta of human rights", prescribing human rights and equality for all, while the inequality of women in many Muslim societies today is due to cultural effects. Hassan claims the Qur'an upholds rights to life, respect, justice, freedom, knowledge, sustenance, work, and privacy, among others.
She supports a non-rigid interpretation of the Qur'an, arguing that while it is the word of God, words can have different meanings, so there are theoretically countless possible meanings of the Qur'an. She believes the meaning of the Qur'an should be determined through hermeneutics — examination of what its words meant at the time it was written. She also speaks of an "ethical criterion" that rejects the use of the Qu'ran to perpetrate injustice, because the God of Islam is just.
Hassan supports abortion rights and access to contraceptives for Muslim women, saying that the Qur'an does not directly address contraceptives, but that Islam's religious and ethical framework leads to the conclusion that family planning should be a fundamental right. She says a review of Muslim jurisprudence indicates that abortion has been considered acceptable within the first 120 days of pregnancy, when the fetus has not yet been ensouled.
In February 1999, she founded The International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan, which works against so-called honor killings. She has argued that honor killings are a distortion of Islam, and further, that the whole idea that women are inferior is a result of the mistaken belief among Muslims that Eve was created from Adam's rib, when, in the Islamic creation story, they were created at the same time.
- Cahill, Susan N. (1996). Wise Women: Over Two Thousand Years of Spiritual Writing by Women. W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 978-0-393-03946-7.
- "Tariqas - Dr. Riffat Hassan". 2001-05-16. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Murphy, Caryle. "Islam and Feminism: Are the Barriers Coming Down?". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Hassan, Riffat. "Are Human Rights Compatible with Islam?". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Hassan, Riffat (1996). "Religious Human Rights in the Qur'an". Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Khalid, Hasan (2003-02-14). "The Hijackers of Islam". The Friday Times. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- Hassan, Riffat. Members, One of Another: Gender Equality and Justice in Islam. Retrieved 2008-03-04.