Read Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam Online

Authors: Amina Wadud

Tags: #Religion, #Islam, #General, #Social Science, #Feminism & Feminist Theory, #Women's Studies, #Sexuality & Gender Studies, #Islamic Studies

Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam (5 page)

BOOK: Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam
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In a later chapter of this book I will acknowledge and partially validate the recent attacks on Muslim feminists’ interpretive methodologies pro- posed by a few male progressive thinkers.
However, this book

demonstrates how and why these methods remain a significant part of the quest for legitimacy and efficacy for the more than 50% of the Muslim population who happen to be female. In our struggles, women continue to be either marginalized or excluded because Muslim men, including many of those who consider themselves progressive, assume and maintain authority not only based on their interpretation of those sources, but also because the conception of the public domain of an Islamic paradigm still focuses upon a fixed center in public space as predominantly defined and inhabited by men. The origins of today’s Muslim women’s movements for greater empowerment and inclusion were heavily influenced by Western theoretical

developments on women’s rights and social justice.
Despite this larger

global connection, this book will point to many ruptures between this Western origin and the need for an indigenous Muslim theoretical and practical reconstruction in the human rights discourse more appropriate to our own Islamic theoretical origins.

The benefits of this pro-Western basis lost critical ground in the frenzied accelerated reassertion of patriarchal-based interpretations of the sources, which were intertwined with authoritative abuses and random selectivity.

Muslim women and men began to reappropriate the primary source texts as evidence in support of their ideas and objectives to create indigenous Islamic reforms. Women were still the last ones to use textual reappro- priation as a fundamental strategy of empowerment. Now we have come to address the primary sources directly and pushed for greater interpretive inclusion, not only as an act of equality against a history of near-exclusive male authority over texts, but also as a means for better self-understanding of those sources to fortify both our identity in Islam and the Islamic authen- ticity of our claims for reform.

At the more personal level, the following edited quote
gives witness to

my personal identity within the context of developing Islamic thought as it led toward the struggle for gender justice:

Each of us can decide to follow the holy quest in a manner which makes our lives meaningful and which allows us the persistence and stamina to see it through the hard times.

8 inside the gender jihad

My door into Islam was accidental. During my freshman and sophomore years in college, I began to change my lifestyle. I wore only long clothes, cut my already natural hair very short, and eventually kept it covered (in mostly African styles and wraps). I also became more conscientious about my diet, with no meat and more wholesome foods. These things I began in celebration of the honor of my being. Life is a gift that we must live with honor – not by random standards imposed on us by an exploitative environment.

Once I visited a mosque around the corner from my mother’s house in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood. I think the brothers assumed from my modest attire that I “understood” all about Islam. They were anxious to increase the number of females within the ranks. They offered little infor- mation, but just said that if I believed that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad was the Prophet, I should take
, the witness or decla- ration to faith and first pillar of Islam.

I pronounced my
on Thanksgiving Day, 1972. A few months after the declaration of my Islam, another accident occurred which proved important: a non-Muslim woman from my old neighborhood, near the mosque where I took
, gave me a copy of the Qur’an (given to her by local Muslim brothers searching out female converts). In reading the Qur’an, I relived my childhood sense of worlds of meaning through words. Sometimes, very simple statements moved me to tears and awe.

Sometimes the complexities quenched my thirst for deeper under- standing. I come away from the Qur’an – to which I have dedicated all of my professional energies up to the Ph.D. in learning to interpret – with the sense that all the questions I have asked can be clarified therein. Not literally “answered,” as some would say, implying that the Qur’an has the (only) Truth, or that all Truth is in it. Rather, the Qur’an establishes a true vision of the world and beyond, with meanings and possibilities of self that lead to certainty and peace.

I owe my full embrace of Islam to the Qur’an, although other reasons for sticking closely to the method of female-inclusive interpretations, especially as they relate to public policy reforms, will be unveiled throughout this book. In chapter 6, “Qur’an, Gender, and Interpretive Possibilities,” I return directly to matters of text and female-inclusive interpretation, and tentatively respond to recent expressions of privileged male reformists still claiming authority in evaluating women’s inclusion and justifying the suffi- ciency or appropriateness in women’s role in justice reform.

The Qur’an inspired my participation in what has been a continual


process of makeover in the Islamic intellectual legacy. In particular, it was my main source of inspiration to transform historical practices of gender asymmetry. That inspiration confirmed the idea that gender justice is essential to the divine order of the universe. Since the end of colonialism, Muslims and non-Muslims, women and men have united their recognition of gender injustice with multiple efforts to improve the status of women. These efforts are part of what could be termed a “gender
The pejorative meanings sometimes attached to the word
by both Muslim extremists and Western conservatives are intentionally overlooked here. Instead
refers to “effort” or “exertion”
and is translated here as “struggle.” The gender
is a struggle to establish gender justice in Muslim thought and praxis. At it simplest level, gender justice is gender mainstreaming – the inclusion of women in
aspects of Muslim practice, performance, policy construction, and in both political and religious leadership. Although this book will focus specifically on the struggle for gender justice, it simultaneously contributes to a corpus of literature aimed at eradicating all practices, public and private, of injustice to women’s full humanity in the name of Islam. Similar exclusionary and dehumanizing practices are directed toward non-Muslims and increasingly more toward non-heterosexual Muslims.

As a Muslim woman living and working with other Muslim women worldwide, I have encountered enough to understand how many seek to find their identity and full voice through continued struggle in the gender
, whether consciously or coincidentally. This book, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, joins a concert of resounding voices creating and learning songs about what “Islam” means with full inclusion of real Muslim women. Hear our song, and when the words become familiar, sing along, for ours has too often been the silence that sustained and nurtured the background. Today we need to see how esthetic balance and harmony

can only result from equal integration of that background



foreground of local, national, international, and universal recognition.


The Introduction, “Inside the Gender Jihad, Reform in Islam,” locates both my research and my personal identity within the larger framework of

modern thought and practice for greater justice within an


Islamic worldview. It is not a mere by-product

of or

reaction to

Western and secular developments, practices, and experiences of justice

10 inside the gender jihad

since the Enlightenment, nor as a by-product reacting to Islamist discourse. It also briefly outlines the remaining chapters of the book.

The first chapter, “What’s in a Name?,” identifies both the significance of definitions and the power dynamics, legitimacy, and authority accompa- nying those who define. The particular terms chosen here are crucial to gender inclusion of some overarching concepts. The first term discussed is “Islam,” pointing out its random but authoritative abuses. Other key concepts like
, and
are combined with some consid- erations of justice,
and there is a short consideration of power as an ethical term used in distinct ways yielding distinct results. All terms are explored within the framework of the particular nuances of gender- inclusive reading of the Qur’an and other texts to justify legitimacy and authority, and to promote greater efficacy crucial to a paradigm shift in Islamic thought.

Chapter 2, “The Challenges of Teaching and Learning in the Creation of Muslim Women’s Studies,” includes both pedagogical matters and personal narrative affecting new objectives as an academic. This is more than mere objective pedagogy and discourse hierarchies; it is my reality as teacher and scholar. Thus the narratives are integral to what fuels, motivates, justifies, and legitimates actions for rethinking the role of academe in relation to Islamic reform, Islamic activism, and to having control over gender theory. It includes some consideration of the history of Muslim Women’s Studies to suggest possibilities for more interdisciplinary corroborations and coherent theory development by prioritizing Islamic Studies.

That is one reason why chapter 3, “Muslim Women’s Collectives, Organizations, and Islamic Reform,” follows. It attends to the relationship between theory and practice to situate women’s networks within the framework of women’s full human agency. Special attention is given to African-American Muslim women’s networks, usually formed at the grass- roots level and focused away from controversy in an attempt to “establish what is good.” This is true for many grassroots organizations, and Muslim women globally are contributing to community care-giving in this context. There is a discussion of Sisters in Islam Malaysia, as it developed through various stages, to demonstrate how women’s organizations evolve from the grassroots or personal collectives to the level of international acclaim, especially as granted extensive funding as well as government support.

Chapter 4, “A New Hajar Paradigm: Motherhood and Family,” is the heart and soul of my life as a Muslim woman. It expands on a single thread that runs through the heart of my gender
It discusses motherhood,


marriage, and “family” as the birthplace of gender inequalities, and situ- ates the life of Hajar as an archetype for the consequences of unexamined applications of laws based on concepts insufficient to include meaningful connections to the realities of single female heads of household in the African-American Muslim community.

Chapter 5, “Public Ritual Leadership and Gender Inclusiveness,” is based on an important event in South Africa in 1994 with a woman as
, delivering a sermon in the still primarily male role, in an attempt to challenge the status quo. It also, however, points to contradictions and missing comprehensive collective theory dealing with the strategic impli- cation that women are still used as objects of utility rather than fully human identities. It shows how the hybrid of activities can break stasis without reconstructing or building bridges for long-term collective forums and insti- tutional transformation. Ultimately it introduces some radical ideas about removing gender asymmetries in Islamic ritual practices – especially in leadership. Very little research has been focused on a female perspective of Islamic ritual leadership in the haste to articulate other more political opportunities for leadership.

Chapter 6, “Qur’an, Gender, and Interpretive Possibilities,” context- ualizes the developments from the radical originality initiated in my book
Qur’an and Woman
as female-voice-inclusive, and the contradictory– complementary nature of text and interpretation. My own research has continued into the major challenge of textual hermeneutics, epistemology, and historiography over the past decade in further developments of textual analysis and implementation in more recent progressive discourse. While I have come to newer articulations of some of my contributions to textual analysis two decades ago, I juxtapose these developments to the historical continuum while simultaneously maintaining the necessity of more female-inclusive analysis.

Chapter 7, “Stories from the Trenches,” provides an opportunity to discuss a few areas that have become central to considerations of gender in Islam, like
, an essay about 9/11, and explanations and responses to some public controversies as they have impacted my identity formations and feelings of belonging in community. Selective persons or arguments have constructed the gender
as an exclusion from modern Islamic realities, rather than as an indication of the failures of inclusive diversity and practices. A short rendition of the paper presented at the International Muslim Leaders’ Council on H.I.V./A.I.D.S. in 2002 in Malaysia provides proof of the continued male sanctions of gender inequities of sexuality.

12 inside the gender jihad

My concluding chapter, “Why Fight the Gender
?,” juxtaposes spirituality as an essential qualification for just actions and public policy reforms. I return, after a long journey, to my original motivation to stand up and rejuvenate faith by “spiritual activism,” that is, to augment the abstract epistemology of reform discourse over revelation and human meaning toward acts of kindness and good, by joining them into a single process – change of heart, body, and soul for participants hoping to create a meaningful alternative in governing Islamic affairs worldwide. Ultimately, it is the divine gift of spirit in agency that mandates service toward building a reformed Islam to replace the chaos and corruptions, including gender oppression currently at the forefront and on the rise.

BOOK: Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam
9.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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