Shirin Neshat, I Am Its Secret (Women of Allah), 1993

Islam and Feminism

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider
The Barnard Center for Research on Women
3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Amid the buzz of media reports about burkas and honor killings, a general sense has emerged among many commentators in Western countries that Islam is uniquely hostile to women’s rights. For many Muslim feminists, this jaundiced view not only obscures the existence of lively—and substantive—debates surrounding Islam and feminism that began well over a century ago, but also fuels a particularly dangerous savior narrative in which Muslim women must be “rescued” from Muslim men, often through military intervention. How do the demands of feminism relate to those of Islam, and are these two commitments truly in conflict?

This course will delve into the history, strategies, and tensions present within attempts to articulate a feminist Islam. For its advocates, the fact that Islam granted women far greater rights than other Western monotheisms and even “secular” states—such as the right to own property—indicates that it is not Islam that is to blame for the oppression of Muslim women, but rather peripheral social practices and customs. We will take up this claim alongside critics who argue that Islam and feminism are inherently incompatible, and that one can only pursue the latter by abandoning the former. We will ask: How have demands for women’s rights in an Islamic framework been linked to broader social and political changes? In what ways have jurists tried to regulate the conduct of women, and to what extent do Muslim feminists engage (and contest) those legal theories? What does studying this case tell us about the nature and evolution of “Islamic law,” not as a fixed code, but as interpretive practice? And in what ways are Muslim feminists active within broader social movements, in the United States, the modern Middle East, and beyond? Readings will range from foundational works from the “first wave” of Islamic feminism by Qasim Amin, Huda Shaarawi, and Bahithat al-Badiya to contemporary writings by scholars and activists such as Nawal El Saadawi, Fatima Mernissi, and Leila Ahmed.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
June 08 — June 29, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open

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