Following the events of September 11, 2001, American Muslims found themselves under unprecedented scrutiny. Muslim communities in the United States suffered from negative representations of their religion, but they also experienced increased interest in aspects of their faith and cultures. They seized the opportunity to shape the intellectual contribution of American Muslims to contemporary Muslim thought as never before. Muslim women in particular—often assumed to be silenced, oppressed members of their own communities—challenged stereotypes through their writing, seeking to express what it means to be a Muslim woman in America and carrying out intra-Muslim debates about gender roles and women’s participation in society. Hammer looks at the work of significant female American Muslim writers, scholars, and activists, using their writings as a lens for a larger discussion of Muslim intellectual production in America and beyond.
Centered on the controversial women-led Friday prayer in March 2005, Hammer uses this event and its aftermath to address themes of faith, community, and public opinion. Tracing the writings of American Muslim women since 1990, the author covers an extensive list of authors, including Amina Wadud, Leila Ahmed, Asma Barlas, Riffat Hassan, Mohja Kahf, Azizah al-Hibri, Asra Normani, and Asma Gull Hasan. Hammer deftly examines each author’s writings, demonstrating that the debates that concern American Muslim women are at the heart of modern Muslim debates worldwide. While gender is the catalyst for Hammer’s study, her examination of these women’s intellectual output touches on themes central to contemporary Islam: authority, tradition, Islamic law, justice, and authenticity.
There are two major women’s movements in Morocco: the Islamists who hold shari’a as the platform for building a culture of women’s rights, and the feminists who use the United Nations’ framework to amend shari’a law. Between Feminism and Islam shows how the interactions of these movements over the past two decades have transformed the debates, the organization, and the strategies of each other.
In Between Feminism and Islam, Zakia Salime looks at three key movement moments: the 1992 feminist One Million Signature Campaign, the 2000 Islamist mass rally opposing the reform of family law, and the 2003 Casablanca attacks by a group of Islamist radicals. At the core of these moments are disputes over legitimacy, national identity, gender representations, and political negotiations for shaping state gender policies. Located at the intersection of feminism and Islam, these conflicts have led to the Islamization of feminists on the one hand and the feminization of Islamists on the other.
Documenting the synergistic relationship between these movements, Salime reveals how the boundaries of feminism and Islamism have been radically reconfigured. She offers a new conceptual framework for studying social movements, one that allows us to understand how Islamic feminism is influencing global debates on human rights.
Much feminist scholarship has viewed Catholicism and Shi'i Islam as two religious traditions that, historically, have greeted feminist claims with skepticism or outright hostility. Creative Conformity demonstrates how certain liberal secular assumptions about these religious traditions are only partly correct and, more importantly, misleading. In this highly original study, Elizabeth Bucar compares the feminist politics of eleven US Catholic and Iranian Shi'i women and explores how these women contest and affirm clerical mandates in order to expand their roles within their religious communities and national politics.
Using scriptural analysis and personal interviews, Creative Conformity demonstrates how women contribute to the production of ethical knowledge within both religious communities in order to expand what counts as feminist action, and to explain how religious authority creates an unintended diversity of moral belief and action. Bucar finds that the practices of Catholic and Shi‘a women are not only determined by but also contribute to the ethical and political landscape in their respective religious communities. She challenges the orthodoxies of liberal feminist politics and, ultimately, strengthens feminism as a scholarly endeavor.
To what extent does Muslim personal law, such as polygamy and triple talaq (the allowance for men to instantly divorce their wives), affect the lives of Muslim women? Are these factors more or less important than other lifestyle issues such as socioeconomic status?
Over the past several decades, the most influential approaches to the study of Muslim women and nearly all the significant campaigns for their rights have focused on religious practices and the urgency to reform Islamic laws. Such focused views, however, give the false sense that religion is the main, if not the only, aspect of Muslim women’s lives.
In order to broaden the lens through which this demographic is typically seen, a group of researchers in India carried out a large and unprecedented study of one of the most disadvantaged sections of Indian society. The editors of The Diversity of Muslim Women’s Lives in India bring together this research in a comprehensive collection of informative and revealing case studies. The essays examine Muslim identity, not only in terms of religious doctrine, but as a heterogeneous set of characteristics produced at the intersections of class, religion, and gender.
Addressing issues of law, politics, education, race, and other neglected secular subjects, this volume is essential reading for policy-makers, social activists, and scholars.
Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights.In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism—conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West—are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women's lives.Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam—as well as a moving portrait of women's actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.
Seizing the space opened by the early 1990s democratization movement, Muslim women are carving an active, influential, but often-overlooked role for themselves during a time of great change. Engaging Modernity provides a compelling portrait of Muslim women in Niger as they confronted the challenges and opportunities of the late twentieth century.
Based on thorough scholarly research and extensive fieldwork—including a wealth of interviews—Ousseina Alidou’s work offers insights into the meaning of modernity for Muslim women in Niger. Mixing biography with sociological data, social theory and linguistic analysis, this is a multilayered vision of political Islam, education, popular culture, and war and its aftermath. Alidou offers a gripping look at one of the Muslim world’s most powerful untold stories.
Runner-up, Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Women’s Caucus of the African Studies Association, 2007
The female voice plays a more central role in Sufi ritual, especially in the singing of devotional poetry, than in almost any other area of Muslim culture. Female singers perform sufiana-kalam, or mystical poetry, at Sufi shrines and in concerts, folk festivals, and domestic life, while male singers assume the female voice when singing the myths of heroines in qawwali and sufiana-kalam. Yet, despite the centrality of the female voice in Sufi practice throughout South Asia and the Middle East, it has received little scholarly attention and is largely unknown in the West.
This book presents the first in-depth study of the female voice in Sufi practice in the subcontinent of Pakistan and India. Shemeem Burney Abbas investigates the rituals at the Sufi shrines and looks at women's participation in them, as well as male performers' use of the female voice. The strengths of the book are her use of interviews with both prominent and grassroots female and male musicians and her transliteration of audio- and videotaped performances. Through them, she draws vital connections between oral culture and the written Sufi poetry that the musicians sing for their audiences. This research clarifies why the female voice is so important in Sufi practice and underscores the many contributions of women to Sufism and its rituals.
Muslim communities throughout the Indian Ocean have long questioned what it means to be a “good Muslim.” Much recent scholarship on Islam in the Indian Ocean considers debates among Muslims about authenticity, authority, and propriety. Despite the centrality of this topic within studies of Indian Ocean, African, and other Muslim communities, little of the existing scholarship has addressed such debates in relation to women, gender, or sexuality. Yet women are deeply involved with ideas about what it means to be a “good Muslim.”
In Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean, anthropologists, historians, linguists, and gender studies scholars examine Islam, sexuality, gender, and marriage on the Swahili coast and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. The book examines diverse sites of empowerment, contradiction, and resistance affecting cultural norms, Islam and ideas of Islamic authenticity, gender expectations, ideologies of modernity, and British education. The book’s attention to both masculinity and femininity, broad examination of the transnational space of the Swahili coast, and inclusion of research on non-Swahili groups on the East African coast makes it a unique and indispensable resource.
Contributors: Nadine Beckmann, Pat Caplan, Corrie Decker, Rebecca Gearhart, Linda Giles, Meghan Halley, Susan Hirsch, Susi Keefe, Kjersti Larsen, Elisabeth McMahon, Erin Stiles, and Katrina Daly Thompson
In the eyes of many Westerners, Muslim women are hidden behind a veil of negative stereotypes that portray them as either oppressed, subservient wives and daughters or, more recently, as potential terrorists. Yet many Muslim women defy these stereotypes by taking active roles in their families and communities and working to create a more just society. This book introduces eighteen Muslim women activists from the United States and Canada who have worked in fields from social services, to marital counseling, to political advocacy in order to further social justice within the Muslim community and in the greater North American society.
Each of the activists has written an autobiographical narrative in which she discusses such issues as her personal motivation for doing activism work, her views on the relationship between Islam and women's activism, and the challenges she has faced and overcome, such as patriarchal cultural barriers within the Muslim community or racism and discrimination within the larger society. The women activists are a heterogeneous group, including North American converts to Islam, Muslim immigrants to the United States and Canada, and the daughters of immigrants. Young women at the beginning of their activist lives as well as older women who have achieved regional or national prominence are included. Katherine Bullock's introduction highlights the contributions to society that Muslim women have made since the time of the Prophet Muhammad and sounds a call for contemporary Muslim women to become equal partners in creating and maintaining a just society within and beyond the Muslim community.
Representing diverse cultural viewpoints, Muslim Women in War and Crisis collects an array of original essays that highlight the experiences and perspectives of Muslim women—their dreams and nightmares and their daily struggles—in times of tremendous social upheaval. Analyzing both how Muslim women have been represented and how they represent themselves, the authors draw on primary sources ranging from poetry and diaries to news reports and visual media. Topics include:
Also exploring such images in the United States, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Iraq, this collection offers a chorus of multidimensional voices that counter Islamophobia and destructive clichés. Encompassing the symbolic national and religious identities of Muslim women, this study goes beyond those facets to examine the realities of day-to-day existence in societies that seek scapegoats and do little to defend the victims of hate crimes. Enhancing their scholarly perspectives, many of the contributors (including the editor) have lived through the strife they analyze. This project taps into their firsthand experiences of war and deadly political oppression.
Who says you can’t be pious and fashionable? Throughout the Muslim world, women have found creative ways of expressing their personality through the way they dress. Headscarves can be modest or bold, while brand-name clothing and accessories are part of a multimillion-dollar ready-to-wear industry that caters to pious fashion from head to toe. In this lively snapshot, Liz Bucar takes us to Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia and finds a dynamic world of fashion, faith, and style.“Brings out both the sensuality and pleasure of sartorial experimentation.”—Times Literary Supplement“I defy anyone not to be beguiled by [Bucar’s] generous-hearted yet penetrating observation of pious fashion in Indonesia, Turkey and Iran… Bucar uses interviews with consumers, designers, retailers and journalists…to examine the presumptions that modest dressing can’t be fashionable, and fashion can’t be faithful.”—Times Higher Education“Bucar disabuses readers of any preconceived ideas that women who adhere to an aesthetic of modesty are unfashionable or frumpy.”—Robin Givhan, Washington Post“A smart, eye-opening guide to the creative sartorial practices of young Muslim women… Bucar’s lively narrative illuminates fashion choices, moral aspirations, and social struggles that will unsettle those who prefer to stereotype than inform themselves about women’s everyday lives in the fast-changing, diverse societies that constitute the Muslim world.”—Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Do Muslim Women Need Saving?
From the late nineteenth century onward, men and women throughout the Middle East discussed, debated, and negotiated the roles of young girls and women in producing modern nations. In Palestine, girls' education was pivotal to discussions about motherhood. Their education was seen as having the potential to transform the family so that it could meet both modern and nationalist expectations.
Ela Greenberg offers the first study to examine the education of Muslim girls in Palestine from the end of the Ottoman administration through the British colonial rule. Relying upon extensive archival sources, official reports, the Palestinian Arabic press, and interviews, she describes the changes that took place in girls' education during this time. Greenberg describes how local Muslims, often portrayed as indifferent to girls' education, actually responded to the inadequacies of existing government education by sending their daughters to missionary schools despite religious tensions, or by creating their own private nationalist institutions.
Greenberg shows that members of all socioeconomic classes understood the triad of girls' education, modernity, and the nationalist struggle, as educated girls would become the "mothers of tomorrow" who would raise nationalist and modern children. While this was the aim of the various schools in Palestine, not all educated Muslim girls followed this path, as some used their education, even if it was elementary at best, to become teachers, nurses, and activists in women's organizations.
Western women’s involvement in Persia dates from the mid-nineteenth century, when female adventurers and missionaries first encountered their veiled Muslim “sisters.” Twentieth-century Western and state-sponsored Iranian feminists continued to use the image of the veiled woman as the embodiment of backwardness. Yet, following the 1979 revolution, indigenous Iranian feminists became more vocal in their resistance to this characterization.
In Rethinking Global Sisterhood, Nima Naghibi makes powerful connections among feminism, imperialism, and the discourses of global sisterhood. Naghibi investigates topics including the state-sponsored Women’s Organization of Iran and the involvement of feminists such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem in the Iranian feminism movement before and during the 1979 revolution. With a potent analysis of cinema, she examines the veiled woman in the films of Tahmineh Milani, Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Kim Longinotto, and Mahnaz Afzali.
At a time when Western relations with the Muslim world are in crisis, Rethinking Global Sisterhood provides much-needed insights and explores the limitations and possibilities of cross-cultural feminist social and political interventions.
Nima Naghibi is assistant professor of English at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Drawing on extensive archival research and oral histories of Muslim women who lived in Calcutta and Dhaka in the first half of the twentieth century, Sarkar traces Muslim women as they surface and disappear in colonial, Hindu nationalist, and liberal Muslim writings, as well as in the memories of Muslim women themselves. The oral accounts provide both a rich source of information about the social fabric of urban Bengal during the final years of colonial rule and a glimpse of the kind of negotiations with stereotypes that even relatively privileged, middle-class Muslim women are still frequently obliged to make in India today. Sarkar concludes with some reflections on the complex links between past constructions of Muslim women, current representations, and the violence against them in contemporary India.
Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed—the "odalisque" image has held sway over Western representations of Muslim women since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Yet during medieval and Renaissance times, European writers portrayed Muslim women in exactly the opposite way, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality.
In this illuminating study, Mohja Kahf traces the process through which the "termagant" became an "odalisque" in Western representations of Muslim women. Drawing examples from medieval chanson de geste and romance, Renaissance drama, Enlightenment prose, and Romantic poetry, she links the changing images of Muslim women to changes in European relations with the Islamic world, as well as to changing gender dynamics within Western societies.
Based on nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork in a Muslim village in northern Sudan, Wombs and Alien Spirits explores the zâr cult, the most widely practiced traditional healing cult in Africa. Adherents of the cult are usually women with marital or fertility problems, who are possessed by spirits very different from their own proscribed roles as mothers. Through the woman, the spirit makes demands upon her husband and family and makes provocative comments on village issues, such as the increasing influence of formal Islam or encroaching Western economic domination. In accommodating the spirits, the women are able metaphorically to reformulate everyday discourse to portray consciousness of their own subordination.
Janice Boddy examines the moral universe of the village, discussing female circumcision, personhood, kinship, and bodily integrity, then describes the workings of the cult and the effect of possession on the lives of men as well as women. She suggests that spirit possession is a feminist discourse, though a veiled and allegorical one, on women's objectification and subordination. Additionally, the spirit world acts as a foil for village life in the context of rapid historical change and as such provides a focus for cultural resistance that is particularly, though not exclusively, relevant to women.
Many Westerners view Islam as a religion that restricts and subordinates women in both private and public life. Yet a surprising number of women in Western Europe and America are converting to Islam. What attracts these women to a belief system that is markedly different from both Western Christianity and Western secularism? What benefits do they gain by converting, and what are the costs? How do Western women converts live their new Islamic faith, and how does their conversion affect their families and communities? How do women converts transmit Islamic values to their children? These are some of the questions that Women Embracing Islam seeks to answer.
In this vanguard study of gender and conversion to Islam, leading historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and theologians investigate why non-Muslim women in the United States, several European countries, and South Africa are converting to Islam. Drawing on extensive interviews with female converts, the authors explore the life experiences that lead Western women to adopt Islam, as well as the appeal that various forms of Islam, as well as the Nation of Islam, have for women. The authors find that while no single set of factors can explain why Western women are embracing Islamic faith traditions, some common motivations emerge. These include an attraction to Islam's high regard for family and community, its strict moral and ethical standards, and the rationality and spirituality of its theology, as well as a disillusionment with Christianity and with the unrestrained sexuality of so much of Western culture.
When the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyad dynasty in 750 CE, an important element in legitimizing their newly won authority involved defining themselves in the eyes of their Islamic subjects. Nadia Maria El Cheikh shows that ideas about women were central to the process by which the Abbasid caliphate, which ushered in Islam’s Golden Age, achieved self-definition.In most medieval Islamic cultures, Arab Islam stood in opposition to jahl, or the state of impurity and corruption that existed prior to Islam’s founding. Over time, the concept of jahl evolved into a more general term describing a condition of ignorance and barbarism—as well as a condition specifically associated in Abbasid discourse with women. Concepts of womanhood and gender became a major organizing principle for articulating Muslim identity. Groups whose beliefs and behaviors were perceived by the Abbasids as a threat—not only the jahilis who lived before the prophet Muhammad but peoples living beyond the borders of their empire, such as the Byzantines, and heretics who defied the strictures of their rule, such as the Qaramita—were represented in Abbasid texts through gendered metaphors and concepts of sexual difference. These in turn influenced how women were viewed, and thus contributed to the historical construction of Muslim women’s identity.Through its investigation of how gender and sexuality were used to articulate cultural differences and formulate identities in Abbasid systems of power and thought, Women, Islam, and Abbasid Identity demonstrates the importance of women to the writing of early Islamic history.
Commemorating the Battle of Karbala, in which the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hosayn and seventy-two of his family members and supporters were martyred in 680 CE, is the central religious observance of Shi'i Islam. Though much has been written about the rituals that reenact and venerate Karbala, until now no one has studied women's participation in these observances. This collection of original essays by a multidisciplinary team of scholars analyzes the diverse roles that women have played in the Karbala rituals, as well as the varied ways in which gender-coded symbols have been used within religious and political discourses.
The contributors to this volume consider women as participants in and observers of the Karbala rituals in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, and the United States. They find that women's experiences in the Shi'i rituals vary considerably from one community to another, based on regional customs, personal preferences, religious interpretations, popular culture, and socioeconomic background. The authors also examine the gender symbolism within the rituals, showing how it reinforces distinctions between the genders while it also highlights the centrality of women to the symbolic repertory of Shi'ism. Overall, the authors conclude that while Shi'i rituals and symbols have in some ways been used to restrict women's social roles, in other ways they have served to provide women with a sense of independence and empowerment.
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