Islamic Studies Literature and Muslim Women
Marcia Hermansen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0160


This bibliography entry will cover Muslim women writers and poets including, wherever possible, their works that significantly feature female perspectives or women’s themes; also included are major critical studies of such writing. One limitation in making these selections is that female authors were selected on the basis of Muslim heritage as opposed to, for example, including other women authors from the same regions who are not Muslim. Much of 20th-century and later literature in Muslim societies does not deal directly with religion, while ethnic, linguistic, religious, and national identities are more complex and fluid than can be easily categorized under discrete rubrics. Studies of literature are often grouped according to the language that is the vehicle of expression or the national context of the author. Increasingly, migration, exile, and cosmopolitan identities complicate any project of strictly situating writers according to national or linguistic identity. Thus, the categories enumerated here may be taken as preliminary and suggestive rather than determinative. The state of critical studies in English of Arabic and Persian literature is reflected in the greater number of articles available for consultation. It was therefore deemed appropriate to create separate sections dealing with critical studies of women’s writing in these languages.

General Overviews

The Internet bibliography Contemporary Arab Women Writers is useful as a starting point, while Ashur, et al. 2008 is the most complete and comprehensive source to date on women writers in the Arab world. Aftab 2008 provides annotated citations of Urdu works by women as well as critical studies on the topic. Oesterheld 2004 is a review of Urdu literature by and about women. Joseph, et al. 2003–2007 is a rich resource that covers the topic in various articles and in diverse regional- and linguistic-based entries. Badran and Cooke 2004 is the best source for an overview of Arab feminist writings. Naficy 1994 is a broad overview of how Persian women have been represented in literature, both classical and contemporary. Afzal-Khan 1997 reflects on the pedagogical issues involved in teaching about Muslim women and literature.

  • Aftab, Tahera. Inscribing South Asian Muslim Women: An Annotated Bibliography and Research Guide. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004158498.i-616

    Covers the topic “women and literature” in Section 14, providing an extensive annotated bibliography of works in translation from Urdu and critical studies of women writers in Urdu organized under subtopics, including women’s language, female poets, Urdu periodicals for women, women in folk takes, women novelists, and female same-sex love. Some Urdu sources are cited as well.

  • Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. “Introducing a New Course: Muslim Women in Twentieth-Century Literature.” NWSA Journal 9 (1997): 76–88.

    DOI: 10.2979/NWS.1997.9.1.76

    Appearing in the official journal of the National Women’s Studies Association, a pedagogical essay on how the author negotiates her own identity as a “Muslim woman” in the classroom and navigates the challenges and expectations surrounding a course on this topic.

  • Ashur, Radwa, Ferial Jabouri Ghazoul, and Hasna Reda-Mekdashi. Arab Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide, 1873–1999. New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2008.

    An essential reference work covering Arab women writers by country and region with chapters surveying developments in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan, North Africa, Arabia and the Gulf, and Yemen to 1999. It includes an extensive bibliography of works in French, English, and Arabic and nearly two hundred pages of appendices on individual writers and their works.

  • Badran, Margot, and Mariam Cooke, eds. Opening the Gates: An Anthology of Arab Feminist Writing. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

    An important anthology of Arab feminist writings from the 1860s to the present that provides historical and theoretical perspectives on this topic.

  • Contemporary Arab Women Writers.

    A useful bibliography of works by Arab women writers in translation, organized by country, with no annotations. This site also includes videos of interviews with some of the authors.

  • Joseph, Suad, ed. Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003–2007.

    Various entries in this multivolume encyclopedia are highly recommended as resources for the study of women and literature in Islamic cultures. There are separate review articles on biography and autobiography in Arabic and Persian. Bibliographies for other articles on lesser-known topics such as Uzbek and Afghan women’s writing include bibliographies of sources in the original languages as well as existing critical works.

  • Naficy, Azar. “Images of Women in Classical Persian Literature and the Contemporary Iranian Novel.” In In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran. Edited by Mahnaz Afkhami and E. Friedl, 115–130. London: I. B. Tauris, 1994.

    A good overview of women in Iranian literature.

  • Oesterheld, Christina. “Urdu and Muslim Women.” In Islam in South Asia. Edited by Daniela Bredi, 217–243. Oriente Modern 1. Rome: Istituto per l’Oriente, 2004.

    A comprehensive review article looking at the relationship between women and Urdu in historical perspective. Includes issues of education and language usage as well as works depicting female roles. Useful for contextualizing women’s writing.

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