Feminism and Islam
The historian Margot Badran once queried, “What’s in a name? What is Islamic feminism?” The anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod posed a different yet related question in her article, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?”—impugning American imperialist savior narratives supporting military intervention in the Middle East in the name of rescuing Muslim women. These two questions—of feminist possibilities from within and the hazards of “salvation” from without—remain at the forefront of contemporary debates on women’s activism in the region, especially as it relates to women’s responses to patriarchy, religious ideology, and inequality in state laws and gender policy. Given this context, how should we think about the multifaceted relationship between feminism, women’s liberation, and Islam?
In this course, we will explore the intersection of feminism and Islam through a study of both their shared history and the discourses interlinking them in modern and contemporary contexts. We will ask: How should we think and speak about the gendered processes of empowerment and disempowerment for women within Muslim-majority settings? In what ways, and to what effect, have Muslim women drawn inspiration from their religion, seeking to form new interpretive communities and producing new analyses of canonical texts in Islam to promote gender equity and justice? What are the critical possibilities, but also limitations, of “Islamic feminism” as a category of religious engagement and political activism? We will take up these questions by drawing upon works, from Marnia Lazreg, Kecia Ali, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Lila Abu Lughod, Sadia Abbas, Nawal El Saadawi, Saba Mahmood, among others, that highlight empirical knowledge of particular cases and theoretical debates on gender and politics. Sessions will be devoted to questions surrounding feminism and equality, looking at women’s exegesis, women’s ritual practice, and female religious movements in the Middle East and North Africa region. Readings will include memoirs, editorials, ethnographies, religious texts, and political treatises, as well as historical scholarship from Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Turkey, and Morocco.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 15 — July 06, 2021