Islamic Studies Women and Tafsir
by
Margherita Picchi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0249

Introduction

The Arabic word tafsir (literally meaning “to clarify,” “to explain”) most commonly refers to the process of interpreting the Qurʾan, and to the vast literary genre of Qurʾanic exegesis (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Tafsir”). Throughout the premodern era, written Qurʾanic tafsir production was an endeavor and a privilege reserved to major Muslim theologians and jurists—in other words, it was largely a male prerogative. Although the female Companions of Muhammad had a relevant role in the transmission of Traditions of the Prophet (hadith), a fundamental tool for Qurʾanic exegesis, women’s participation in the production of religious knowledge dramatically decreased during the classical era of Islam, although the extent of this marginalization is still debated among scholars (see Women and Religious Authority in the Premodern Era). This marginalization, and more generally the patriarchal context in which classical Qurʾanic commentaries were written, prompted Muslim scholars to understand the Qurʾan as sanctioning a hierarchical view of gender relations in which men are superior to women and hold authority over them. Tafsir by women made its appearance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the first feminist wave emerged in Muslim contexts. Activists in women’s rights movements—secular as well as religiously oriented—started using religious arguments to promote their claims; however, these women did not have access to formal religious training and mostly relied on arguments elaborated by modernist (male) scholars, rarely producing systematic rereadings of religious texts themselves—with a few remarkable exceptions (see Emergence of Women’s Tafsir: 19th and Early 20th Centuries). An identifiable field of gender-egalitarian Qurʾanic interpretation started emerging in the last quarter of the 20th century, and became visible in the 1990s in various locations across the globe. This phenomenon has generally been defined with the label “Islamic feminism,” although this term is highly contested and even explicitly rejected by some activists and scholars (see Feminist Tafsir and Scholarly Examinations of Feminist Tafsir). “Islamic feminism” emerged in the context of—and in explicit reaction to—the rise of Salafism and political Islam at a global level, and the affirmation of Islamic regimes in Sudan and Iran (see Islamic Revival and the Emergence of Islamic Feminism: 1970s–1980s). It is worth noting that women have also been active participants in Salafist and Islamist organizations, in some cases producing autonomous readings of the Qurʾan that offer a perspective of complementary, rather than egalitarian, gender roles. (see Islamic Revival and Women’s Tafsir). For those interested in the study of women in Islamic contexts in a broader sense, see the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Women and Islam.”

General Overviews

The field of tafsir by women is located at the intersection of women’s studies and Qurʾanic studies, and scholars have approached it from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds. There are many valid introductory texts that incorporate a gender perspective in the study of Qurʾanic exegesis, and others that offer an effective survey of the new field of gender-egalitarian Qurʾanic interpretation. Awde 2000 represents a basic source to orient the reader regarding references to women and gender relations in the sacred texts of Islam, while Bauer 2015 is an excellent, yet highly specialized, survey of classical and modern commentaries. Cooke 2001 is one of the earliest accounts of the emergence of the Islamic feminist trend; Badran 2009 is a now classic introduction to the field of Islamic feminism. Hidayatullah 2014 provides an exceptional overview of Islamic feminist production in the United States, while the articles included in Kynsilehto 2008 effectively capture the debate over the term “Islamic feminism” and its conceptualization. Several articles by and about feminist interpreters of the Qurʾan have been published in the journal Hawwa, published by Brill since 2003, while the fifth volume of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (Suad, et al. 2003–2007) includes several entries on women in classical and modern tafsir.

  • Awde, Nicholas. Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qurʾān and Ḥadīths. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2000.

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    A thorough anthology of references to women-related issues in the Qurʾan and the two major hadith collections (Bukhari’s and Muslim’s), offered to the reader without analysis or comments.

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  • Badran, Margot. Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

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    A collection of essays on Islamic and secular feminism in Muslim contexts. Part 1 focuses on the history of Egyptian feminism from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th century. Part 2 explores the emergence of Islamic feminism on a global level.

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  • Bauer, Karen. Gender Hierarchy in the Qurʾān: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139649759Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A rich analysis of classical and modern tafsir literature, which aims to highlight how interpretations of texts concerning gender differences in testimony, the story of creation, and marriage-related issues have developed over time, reflecting the exegetes’ cultural, social, and political context.

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  • Cooke, Miriam. Women Claim Islam: Creating Islamic Feminism through Literature. New York and London: Routledge, 2001.

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    An early account of women exploring the intersection between feminism and Islam through literature during the 20th century. Chapters 3 and 4 are devoted, respectively, to the work of Assia Djebar and Fatima Mernissi, and to the figure of the Egyptian Islamist intellectual and activist Zaynab al-Ghazali.

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  • Hawwa: Journal of Women in the Middle East and the Islamic World. 2003–.

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    Interdisciplinary journal, published three times a year, focused on women and gender in the Middle East and Islamic cultures. Volume 2, issue 3 (2004) is of special interest for its focus on women and tafsir.

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  • Hidayatullah, Aysha. Feminist Edges of the Qurʾan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199359561.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive overview of contemporary anti-patriarchal exegesis, produced by scholars located or active in the United States, such as Riffat Hassan, Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Azizah al-Hibri, Saʿdiyya Shaikh, and Kecia Ali, from the perspective of a scholar who identifies herself as both a religious Muslim and a feminist.

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  • Kynsilehto, Anytta, ed. Islamic Feminism: Current Perspectives. Occasional Paper. 96. Tampere, Finland: Tampere Peace Research Institute, 2008.

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    Collection of articles on tafsir by women, covering a wide range of topics—such as the debate concerning the conception of “Islamic feminism”; its development in different contexts such as Morocco, Turkey, France, Germany, and Italy; and methodological issues.

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  • Suad, Joseph, Afsaneh Najmabadi, and Jane Smith, eds. Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. 6 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003–2007.

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    A six-volume encyclopedia dedicated to the study of Muslim women from different historic periods and contexts. Volume 5 contains entries on early tafsir (pp. 266–268), modern Qurʾanic interpretation in various languages (pp. 249–265), and representations of gender in the Qurʾan (pp. 529–532).

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Anthologies

A great number of gender-egalitarian readings of the sacred texts of Islam have been published in edited collections, with fewer studies reaching mainstream journals. A few collections focus on specific fields of research or selected topics. The articles included in Anwar 2009 and Mir-Hosseini, et al. 2013, for instance, are concerned with modern Islamic law from both a theoretical and a reality-oriented perspective, while the essays collected in Mir-Hosseini, et al. 2015 deal with the legal postulates of qiwama and wilaya. Other editors have opted for a broader approach, their collections covering a diversity of topics and contexts, with articles by scholars coming from different backgrounds and using different perspectives; examples include Al-Hibri 1982; Yamani 1996; and Aslan, et al. 2013. Some collections focus on specific contexts: the contributors to Webb 2000 come from the North American continent, for example, while Abou-Bakr 2013 includes articles by Arab and European women scholars. Safi 2003 includes a section on gender justice alongside others that deal with social justice and religious pluralism.

  • Abou-Bakr, Omaima, ed. Feminist and Islamic Perspectives: New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform. Cairo: The Women and Memory Forum, 2013.

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    English translation of a collection of articles by women scholars from the Arab world and Europe, originally in Arabic. An essential resource for exploring the work of non-Anglophone women scholars. The book includes a rare list of works on Islamic feminism available in Arabic.

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  • Anwar, Zainah, ed. Wanted: Equality and Justice in Muslim Family Law. Selangor, Malaysia: Musawah, 2009.

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    Collection of essays on Muslim family law and possibilities for reform, authored by leading international scholars such as Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Amina Wadud, and Khaled Abou El Fadl. Aims to provide a theoretical framework from within the Islamic tradition for activists engaged in reforming discriminatory norms and practices.

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  • Aslan, Ednan, Marcia Hermansen, and Elif Medeni, eds. Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013.

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    Rich collection of articles by Muslim women scholars engaged in interpreting the Islamic sources from various perspectives: Part 1 addresses the historical emergence of women interpreters; Part 2 deals with theological anthropology; Part 3 focuses on jurisprudence; and Part 4 explores new trends and areas of interest in recent Muslim women’s theological writings.

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  • al-Hibri, Azizah, ed. Women and Islam. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982.

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    Collection of essays by Muslim women scholars expressing “the modern interaction between feminism and Islam” (p. x) through analysis of hadith literature, jurisprudence, Sufi tradition, history, and customary practices. Includes a translated selection from Nazira Zayn al-Din’s classical work on veiling (1928).

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  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Mulki al-Sharmani, and Jana Rumminger, eds. Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. London: Oneworld, 2015.

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    Outcome of a research initiative launched by the international feminist network Musawah, this collection of essays by renowned Muslim women scholars aims to challenge the religious and legal postulates of qiwama (authority) and wilaya (guardianship), as well as the practical application of these concepts in everyday life.

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  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen, and Christian Moe, eds. Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in Islamic Legal Tradition. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013.

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    Collection of articles exploring the challenges that the idea of gender equality poses to Islamic legal tradition. Part 1 investigates current practical efforts for reform in different contexts (Egypt, Morocco, and the global Musawah movement); Part 2 deals with methodological and epistemological issues related to the hermeneutics of Qurʾan and hadith.

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  • Safi, Omid, ed. Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003.

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    A rich and diverse collection of articles by prominent Muslim thinkers discussing the challenges faced by Islam in the modern world, with the aim of contrasting Western xenophobia and Islamic extremism. Part 2 specifically focuses on gender justice, exploring issues such as same-sex relationships, marriage, feminist epistemology, and activism.

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  • Webb, Gisela, ed. Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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    Collection of essays by leading Muslim women scholars active in North America, promoting a gender-egalitarian reading of Islamic sources, traditions, and laws. The book is divided into four parts, focusing on theological, legal, and literary issues, and on the struggles of religiously committed feminist activism.

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  • Yamani, Mai, ed. Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives. Reading, UK: Ithaca, 1996.

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    An early collection of essays by Muslim women researchers from a diversity of academic backgrounds (historians, anthropologists, political scientists, literary critics), exploring feminist challenges and issues in different Muslim contexts. The book is divided into four parts, dealing with historical, cultural, theological, and legal issues.

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Reference Works

Three main encyclopedias have included entries exploring the intersection of Qurʾanic exegesis and women’s studies: the Encylopaedia of the Qurʾān includes one entry on “Feminism and the Qur’ān” (Badran 2002) and another on “Women and the Qurʾān” (Roded 2002), the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures (2003–2007) explores the topic of women in modern Qurʾanic exegesis in different geographical contexts (Qurʾān: Modern Interpretations, Wheeler 2003–2007), and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World devotes one entry to the production of feminist discourses in Muslim contexts (Badran 2001).

  • Badran, Margot. “Feminism.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Edited by John L. Esposito, 19–23. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Using a historical perspective, this work examines the production of feminist discourses by Muslim women from the late 19th to the end of the 20th century. Badran discusses different modes of feminist expression, accomplishments, and challenges of the feminist movement, and reflects on the use of Islamic arguments to promote feminist claims.

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  • Badran, Margot. “Feminism and the Qurʾān.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Vol. 2. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

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    An effective historical survey that traces the use of religious references in the development of feminist discourses in Muslim contexts. The first section focuses on the emergence of a feminist consciousness in the late 19th century, the second deals with the rise and spread of Islamic feminism since the 1990s.

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  • “Qurʾān: Modern Interpretations.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Vol. 5, Practices, Interpretations and Representations. Edited by Suad Joseph, 249–265. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003–2007.

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    Includes five entries on modern Qurʾanic interpretation by women and progressive male scholars in various languages: Arabic, Euro-American languages, Persian, South America languages, and Turkish.

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  • Roded, Ruth. “Women and the Qurʾān.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

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    A rich overview of Qurʾanic references concerning women’s issues and gender relations. In addition to analyzing women’s theological, political, economic, and legal status in the Qurʾan, the author pays special attention to the depiction of female characters in Qurʾanic narratives.

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  • Wheeler, Brannon. “Representations: Qurʾān: Overview.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. Vol. 5. Edited by Suad Joseph, 529–532. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003–2007.

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    An effective overview of references concerning sexual difference and gender relations in the Qurʾan.

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Women and Religious Authority in the Premodern Era

The extent and relevance of women’s contribution to the formation of religious knowledge in the early and classical stages of Islamic history has been discussed in a number of works, using different approaches and methodologies, and reaching different conclusions. Kabbani and Bakhtiar 1998 is an excellent reference book, where hadith narrated by women are collected alongside the biographies of the female Companions of Muhammad; Ahmed 1992 argues that women ceased to be creators of texts after the first decades of Islamic history, an opinion supported by the quantitative research presented in Roded 1994. Aslan, et al. 2013 juxtaposes the fundamental role played by Muhammad’s female companions in transmitting his traditions with the progressive marginalization of women in the following centuries. Using a literary approach, Kahf 2000 and Abou-Bakr 2013 claim that women’s presence as religious and intellectual interlocutors can be traced, although with some caution, in male-authored medieval writings. Combining qualitative and quantitative research, Sayeed 2013 offers a more nuanced view of this decline, highlighting the reappearance of a significant number of women scholars at certain historical moments. Geissinger 2015 focuses on the selective inclusion of exegetical materials attributed to women into pre-modern Quranic commentaries, in order to shed light on the gendered construction of exegetical authority during the formative and early medieval periods of Islam

  • Abou-Bakr, Omaima. “Rings of Memory: ‘Writing Muslim Women’ and the Question of Authorial Voice.” The Muslim World 103.3 (2013): 320–333.

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    The author offers a critical reflection of the methodological and epistemological issues that arise when attempting to document women’s presence in male-authored literature. She also applies a literary-critical approach to analyze three medieval texts, including a previously unpublished Sufi poem, written by a woman.

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  • Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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    A classic study focusing on the history of women in the Arab world from the pre-Islamic era to modern times. The second part of the book (“Founding Discourse,” chapters 3–5) traces the progressive exclusion of women from the field of religious study during the Middle Ages.

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  • Aslan, Ednan, Marcia Hermansen, and Elif Medeni, eds. Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013.

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    Chapter 1 (pp. 35–44) sketches the marginalization of women in the early Islamic history, with a strong textual background based on Arabic sources. Chapter 2 (pp. 45–58) discusses the role of women as interpreters of sources revealed during the times of the Prophet Muhammad, focusing on the figure of ʿAisha.

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  • Geissinger, Aisha. Gender and Muslim Constructions of Authority: A Rereading of the Classical Genre of Qur’ān Commentary. Leiden, The Netherlands and Boston: Brill, 2015.

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    Comprehensive analytical survey of the hadiths and other exegetical materials (Athār, Quranic readings, poetry) attributed to women that have been incorporated into pre-modern Quranic commentaries.

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  • Kabbani, Mugammad Hisham, and Laleh Bakhtiar. Encyclopedia of Muhammad’s Women Companions and the Traditions They Related. Chicago: Kazi, 1998.

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    Comprehensive collection of original sources on women companions of the Prophet Muhammad and their role as transmitters of the hadith. Part 1 gathers all the hadith narrated by women that can be found in the six canonical books of Traditions; Part 2 provides the biographies of over six thousand women companions.

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  • Kahf, Mohja. “Braiding the Stories: Women’s Eloquences in the Early Islamic Era.” In Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America. Edited by Gisela Webb, 147–171. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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    Reconstructs women’s literary history in the early Islamic era through an analysis of women’s compositions included in classical religio-historical works. Kahf objects to the idea that women stopped creating texts in the Middle Age and prefers to define them as mujadilas, “interlocutors” in male-dominated religious scholarship.

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  • Roded, Ruth. Women in the Islamic Biographical Collections: From Ibn Saʿd to Who’s Who. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

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    Combining statistics with narrative history, this book offers an analysis of women’s presence in thirty-eight biographical dictionaries published in the premodern era. Roded’s findings are summarized in Table 1 (p. 3), which shows a dramatic decline over time in the percentage of entries dedicated to women, with some significant exceptions.

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  • Sayeed, Asma. Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139381871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the history of the role of women as transmitters of religious knowledge in the early and classical Islamic era (6th to 17th centuries), analyzing quantitative data (e.g., chains of transmitters) and qualitative information contained in the hadith literature.

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The Emergence of Women’s Tafsir: 19th and Early 20th Centuries

Toward the end of the 19th century and the earlier decades of the 20th, Arab women started producing a discourse that can be identified as feminist, according to the broad definition given in Badran and Cooke 2004: “an awareness by women that as women they are systematically placed in disadvantaged position; some form of rejection of enforced behaviours and thought; and attempts to interpret their own experiences and then to improve their position or lives as women” (pp. xxxvi–xviii). Badran 1995 (cited under Secondary Sources) sketches the emergence of this first feminist wave in the Egyptian context, pointing out that these activists and intellectuals did not have access to formal religious training and mostly relied on arguments elaborated by modernist (male) scholars, rarely producing systematic rereadings of religious texts themselves. Among the few exceptions to this rule, the most remarkable can be found in the works of Lebanese scholar Nazira Zayn al-Din, whose life and writings are analyzed in detail in Cooke 2010 and summarized in Shaaban 1995 (both cited under Secondary Sources). Although the intellectual primacy of Zayn al-Din among women scholars of that time is undisputed, Hatem 2011 (cited under Secondary Sources) finds in the work of Egyptian poet ʿAʾisha Taymur the first modern attempt by a Muslim woman to engage in Qurʾanic exegesis. Researchers interested in examining primary texts (mostly published only in Arabic) should focus on the first part of this section (Primary Sources), while those interested in reading scholarly examinations of those texts should refer to the second part (Secondary Sources).

Primary Sources

Very few works by women intellectuals of the first feminist wave have been translated into English. Thus, Badran and Cooke 2004, an anthology of more than fifty writings by Arab women, represents an invaluable resource for researchers unable to read Arabic; those interested in the figure of Zayn al-Din can find a translation of a selection from her classical work on veiling in al-Hibri 1982. Arabists can find in Zayn al-Din 1998 and Taymur 2002 two brilliant examples of women’s tafsir published in the colonial era.

  • Badran, Margot, and Miriam Cooke. Opening the Gates: An Anthology of Arab Feminist Writings. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

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    Collection of writings from Arab women (including poems, tales, excerpts from novels, speeches, and interviews) divided in three parts (Awareness, Rejection, Activism) that refer to the progression of feminist consciousness rather than a chronological development. Includes translated writings by Nazira Zayn al-Din, Huda Shaarawi, Nabawiya Musa, Bahithat al-Badiya, and others.

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  • al-Hibri, Azizah, ed. Women and Islam. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982.

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    Includes a selection from Nazira Zayn al-Din’s classical work Al-sufur wa al-hijab (Unveiling and Veiling, 1928) translated into English.

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  • Taymur, ʿAʾisha. Mirʾat al-taʾmul fi al-Umur. Cairo, Egypt: Women and Memory Forum, 2002.

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    In Arabic. Small pamphlet, originally published in 1892. Taymur refers to Qurʾanic exegesis to discuss the legitimacy of gender hierarchy, and challenges the idea that men are superior to women due to some innate characteristic of masculinity. Her claim is that men’s privileges are conditional upon the assumption of their responsibilities toward their families.

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  • Zayn al-Din, Nazira. Al-sufur wa al-hijab. Damascus, Syria: Dar al-Mada, 1998.

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    In Arabic, translates as Unveiling and Veiling. Originally published in 1928, this book is considered the earliest modern attempt by a woman to engage systematically with revealed sources to discuss the subject of hijab, and, more generally, to defend women’s right to interpret the Qurʾan.

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Secondary Sources

Badran 1995 is an excellent resource for researchers interested in tracing the emergence of the first feminist wave in the Egyptian context. Shaaban 1995 and Cooke 2010 focus on the biography and the writings of Nazira Zayn al-Din, while Hatem 2011 explores the thought and poems of ʿAʾisha Taymur.

  • Badran, Margot. Feminism, Islam and the Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    Sketches the three phases of the emergence of Egyptian feminism: the rise of a “feminist consciousness” in women’s writings, the involvement of women in charitable and social activities, and the creation of explicitly political feminist organizations such as the Egyptian Feminist Union.

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  • Cooke, Miriam. Nazira Zeineddine: A Pioneer of Islamic Feminism. Oxford: Oneworld, 2010.

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    A biography of the Lebanese writer Nazira Zayn al-Din, in which sketches of this writer’s private life are used to contextualize her best-known writings, Unveiling and Veiling and The Girl and the Shaykhs.

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  • Hatem, Mervat. Literature, Gender, and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Egypt: The Life and Works of ʿAʾisha Taymur. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230118607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Intellectual biography of the Egyptian writer ʿAʾisha Taymur, which aims to reestablish this author as a major figure of her time, both as a poet and a social critic. Chapter 4 deals with the pamphlet Mirʾat al-taʾmul fi al-Umur, in which Taymur used Qurʾanic exegesis to challenge dominant views concerning gender relations.

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  • Shaaban, Bouthaina. “The Muted Voices of Women Interpreters.” In Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World. Edited by Mahnaz Afkhami, 61–77. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995.

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    An analysis of the work of the Lebanese writer Nazira Zayn al-Din, discussing her interpretation of several key Qurʾanic verses and comparing it with the opinion expressed by other Muslim scholars of her time and later.

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The Islamic Revival and the Emergence of Islamic Feminism: 1970s–1980s

The sources included in this section provide an introduction to the social, cultural, and political context of emergence of tafsir by women in the last quarter of the 20th century. With the advent of the so-called Islamic revival and the rise of Islamist movements and parties all over the Muslim world, the participation of women in such organizations became increasingly evident. Women have been significant actors of the Islamic revival, claiming agency and leadership in pious organizations and in the “mosque movement,” as discussed in Mahmood 2005 and Bano and Kalmbach 2012; participating as writers or theorists, as explored in McLarney 2015; or simply turning to strict Islamic gender codes, as seen in Göle 1996. On the other hand, this rise of Islamist movements, and even more the affirmation of Islamic regimes in Iran and Sudan, encouraged the emergence of a feminist discourse elaborated from within an Islamic frame of reference, aiming to enable women to turn the tables on Islamists and traditional religious authorities and beat them at their own game in their own arena. Najmabadi 1998 and Mir-Hosseini 2006 trace the emergence of this religiously framed form of feminism in Iran, while Badran 2009 focuses on the rise of Islamic feminism on a global level.

  • Badran, Margot. Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

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    Collection of articles and essays on feminism in Muslim contexts, from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th. Chapter 10 (“Islamic Feminism: What’s in a Name?”) provides a brief introduction, accessible to students and nonspecialized readers, to the subject of Islamic feminism from a global perspective.

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  • Bano, Masooda, and Hilary Kalmbach, eds. Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

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    A collection of articles discussing women’s leadership in the formal sphere of religious authority—mosques and madrasas—in both Muslim majority and minority contexts.

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  • Göle, Nilufer. The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

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    A sociological study focused on the veiling movement in Turkey. Through an examination of the gender-segregating practices adopted by young Turkish women, Göle reflects upon the complex relations among gender, tradition, and modernity in a “secularized” country such as Turkey.

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  • Mahmood, Saba. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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    Highly acclaimed ethno-anthropological study of the women’s “mosque movement” in Egypt, aiming to deconstruct Western liberal formulations of agency. A cornerstone in postcolonial feminist theory.

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  • McLarney, Ellen Anne. Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400866441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores women’s written production in Islamic popular culture, mass media, and public scholarship on gender relations in Islam, published in Egypt during the last six decades. Includes the writings of Bint al-Shatiʾ, Safinaz Kassim, Heba Raouf Ezzat, Kariman Hamza, and Niʿmat Sidqi.

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  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. “Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality: Between Islamic Law and Feminism.” Critical Inquiry 3 (2006): 629–645.

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    Describes the emergence of Islamic feminism in Iran as the paradoxical and unintended consequence of the Islamists’ reintroduction of Sharia-based laws after the 1979 revolution.

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  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Feminism in an Islamic Republic: ‘Years of Hardship, Years of Growth.’” In Islam, Gender, and Social Change. Edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito, 59–84. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    The article focuses on the emergence of a feminist discourse articulated within an Islamic paradigm in post-revolutionary Iran, focusing on women’s press and especially the magazine Zanan.

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The Islamic Revival and Women’s Tafsir

In most Muslim contexts, women gained access to formal university education, both secular and religious, during the first half of the 20th century, allowing some personalities to emerge as autonomous interpreters of the sacred texts of Islam. This section focuses on interpreters who have promoted an explicitly complementary, or even hierarchical, view of gender relations. Researchers interested in examining primary texts should focus on the first part of this section, while those interested in reading scholarly examinations of those texts should refer to the second part.

Primary Sources

One of the most notable woman exegetes of the 20th century is with no doubt ʿAisha Abd al-Rahman, better known with her nom de plume Bint al-Shatiʾ (researchers who are particularly interested in her figure should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “ʿAysha Abd al-Rahman”). Of her many publications, only a few are available in English: Abdul-Rahman 2009 is the English translation of a lecture she gave in Omdurman (Sudan) in 1967, while Bint al-Shatiʾ 2006 is a rather poor translation of her biographical book about the women of the Prophet Muhammad’s household. For researchers interested in women activists in Islamist movements, al-Ghazali 2006 and Yassine 2003 are two excellent sources, offering a valuable glimpse into the thought processes of their authors (the Egyptian Muslim Sister Zaynab al-Ghazali and the former spokesperson of the Moroccan movement Justice and Development, respectively), although they only make sporadic references to Qurʾanic exegesis. Raouf Ezzat 2007 is an excellent introduction, for non-Arabic speakers, to the thoughts of the Egyptian political scientist Heba Raouf Ezzat, an intellectual heir of Yusuf al-Qaradawi and probably the most notable female representative of the intellectual current known as Islamic centrism. Arabists interested in directly exploring her ideas should consult the brilliant Raouf Ezzat 1995, on women and political work.

  • Abdul-Rahman, Aisha. “The Islamic Concept of Women’s Liberation.” Al-Raida 125 (2009): 37–43.

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    English translation of a lecture given by Bint al-Shatiʾ in Omdurman (Sudan) in 1967, in which she summarizes her views on women’s issues and gender equality in the revealed text. Abd al-Rahman promotes gender justice, but opposes the idea of absolute equality between men and women.

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  • Bint al-Shatiʾ. The Wives of the Prophet. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2006.

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    Rather poor translation from Arabic of this series of portraits of the women in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, rooted in a large bibliography that include the Qurʾan, the hadith collections, and classical as well modern Islamic literature. After an introductory section dedicated to the Prophet as a husband, the following chapters are devoted to the twelve “Mothers of the Believers,” depicted in rather literary and romantic terms.

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  • al-Ghazali, Zainab. Return of the Pharaoh: Memoir in Nasir’s Prison. Leicester, UK: Islamic Foundation, 2006.

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    Autobiography of the Egyptian Muslim Sister Zainab al-Ghazali, focused on her arrest and imprisonment on the charge of conspiring against President Nasser’s life in 1965. The book’s description of al-Ghazali’s ordeal and torture in prison is modeled after the medieval narrative of a Muslim saint’s spiritual journey.

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  • Raouf Ezzat, Heba. Al-marʾa wa al-ʿamal al-siyasi: ruʾya islamiyya. Herndon, Virginia: IIIT, 1995.

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    There is still no English translation for this impressive book (Women and political work), which relies on tafsir, analysis of classical juridical literature, and modern political theory to develop a liberal interpretation of Islamist gender politics. The first part of the book deals with women’s political rights, the second is dedicated to the private sphere.

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  • Raouf Ezzat, Heba. “On the Future of Women and Politics in the Arab World.” In Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. Edited by John J. Donohue and John L. Esposito, 184–196. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Raouf Ezzat discusses the issue of women’s political participation in MENA countries, criticizing what she calls the “obsession” for institutional politics that many Western observers—and feminist activists—show. Calls for a redefinition of concepts such as politics and power, less focused on the state and its institutions.

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  • Yassine, Nadia. Toutes voiles dehors. Casablanca, Morocco: Le Fennec, 2003.

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    Apologetic pamphlet in which Nadia Yassine, the former spokesperson of the Moroccan Islamist movement al-Adl wa al-Ihsan, discusses several topics connected to the challenges faced by an Islamic activist in the post-2001 modern world, ranging from democracy to evolutionary theories.

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Secondary Scholarship

Researchers interested in exploring the writings of Islamist women with a broad perspective can consult McLarney 2015, which focuses on the Egyptian case and summarizes the thoughts and ideas of different scholars and public figures, including Bint al-Shatiʾ and Heba Raouf Ezzat. Those interested in the exegetical methodology of Bint al-Shatiʾ can refer to Boullata 1974, while Hatem 2011 discusses her views on women’s rights, sexual difference, and gender relations. Both Cooke 1994 and Rustum Shehadeh 2003 provide an interesting analysis of the life and writings of Zaynab al-Ghazali, offering almost opposite evaluations of her figure and influence on younger generations of Islamist women. Marcotte 2006 summarizes Heba Raouf Ezzat’s views on feminism and the conceptualization of gender as a category of analysis.

  • Boullata, Issa J. “Modern Qurʾan Exegesis: A Study of Bint al-Shati’s Method.” The Muslim World 64 (1974): 103–113.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-1913.1974.tb03145.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A rigorous and insightful analysis of Bint al-Shatiʾ’s methodology in Qurʾanic exegesis, including a list of her publications up to 1974. The focus of the article is broader than just her perspective on women’s rights and gender issues.

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  • Cooke, Miriam. “Zaynab al-Ghazali: Saint or Subversive?” Die Welt des Islams 34 (1994): 1–18.

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    A solid and yet celebratory presentation of Zaynab al-Ghazali’s life and thoughts, as exemplified in public interviews and in her autobiographical book Return of the Pharaoh, a work that “combines features of both pious and feminist autobiography, yet also deviates from both” (p. 17).

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  • Hatem, Mervat. “ʿAʾisha Abdel Rahman: An Unlikely Heroine; A Post-Colonial Reading of Her Life and Some of Her Biographies of Women in the Prophetic Household.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 7.2 (Spring 2011): 1–26.

    DOI: 10.2979/jmiddeastwomstud.7.2.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critical analysis of Bint al Shatiʾ’s biography and views of women’s rights and gender relations, as expressed in her biographical writings about women in the prophetic household.

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  • Marcotte, Roxanne. “What Might an Islamist Gender Discourse Look Like?” Australian Religion Studies Review 19.2 (2006): 141–167.

    DOI: 10.1558/arsr.2006.19.2.141Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of Heba Raouf Ezzat’s writings and criticism of feminism as “a good example of a modern Islamist reconfiguration of traditional understanding of gender in Islam” (p. 143). It contains valuable information about Raouf Ezzat’s biography and her work in Arabic.

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  • McLarney, Ellen. Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400866441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes women’s contributions to the production of Islamic popular culture, mass media, and public scholarship on gender relations in Islam published in Egypt throughout the last six decades. Chapter 1 is dedicated to Bint al-Shatiʾ; chapter 6 focuses on Heba Raouf Ezzat’s conception of the Islamic family.

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  • Rustum Shehadeh, Lamia. “Zaynab al-Ghazali.” In The Idea of Women in Fundamentalist Islam. By Lamia Rustum Shehadeh, 121–140. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

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    A detailed examination of Zaynab al-Ghazali’s ideas concerning gender relations and women’s rights, contextualized with historical and biographical information. The author maintains a highly critical perspective, claiming that al-Ghazali “suppressed her feminism . . . seeking to excel in the power game” (p. 139).

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Feminist Tafsir

Since the 1980s, a new field has emerged within the broader genre of the interpretation of the Islamic sacred text, one that is primarily driven by the issue of gender equality and methodological reform of Islamic religious sciences. This current of thought has become known to the general public by the term “Islamic feminism,” although this label is rejected by some scholars and activists.

Feminist Interpretations of the Qurʾan

The field of gender-egalitarian Qurʾanic interpretation did not arise in a vacuum, but it can be considered one of the various branches of Islamic modernism. The “first wave” of gender egalitarian readings of the Qurʾan, published in the 1990s and early 2000s, explicitly referred to the exegetical methodology elaborated by modernist scholars as inspirational. Toward the end of the first decade of the new millennium, a new generation of interpreters emerged, their writings not only aiming to contrast patriarchal interpretations of Islam, but also to critically discuss the methodological and epistemological tools of the earlier generation of modernist scholars. The following sections include a list of primary sources that reflect the development of gender-egalitarian exegesis since 1980, and two further sections dedicated to two major themes that have captured the attention of feminist exegetes: the representation of female figures in the Qurʾan, and the interpretation of the highly controversial verse 4:34.

Islamic Modernism

The books and articles included in this section are major sources of Islamic modernism to which feminist readers of the Qurʾan have frequently referred in their exegetical works. Researchers interested in exploring the topic of Islamic modernism broadly should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Modernism.” The modernist work of Fazlur Rahman became highly influential in the development of gender-egalitarian Qurʾanic interpretation, particularly for its plea to interpret the Qurʾan holistically, rather than focusing on specific pronouncements (Rahman 1980, Rahman 1984). The Indian scholar Asghar Ali Engineer has been also influential for his relatively traditional, and yet gender-sensitive, approach to Qurʾanic interpretation (Engineer 1992). The “liberative hermeneutics” proposed by the South African scholar Farid Esack has also been praised for its relevance to the issue of gender equality (Esack 2001). Khaled Abou El Fadl’s outstanding work on authority in interpreting Islamic sources (Abou El Fadl 2001) has been widely celebrated by feminist exegetes, while the hermeneutical approach to tafsir applied by Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who called for a historical-critical reading of the Qurʾan (Abu Zayd 2004, Abu Zayd 2013), has been received alternatively with enthusiasm and caution for its philosophical radicalism. In Shiʿa Islam, an influential source for gender-egalitarian interpretation of the Islamic texts can be found in Ali Shariati’s work on Fatima (Shariati 1983).

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women. Oxford: Oneworld, 2001.

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    Outstanding critical work on the issue of authority and authoritarianism in interpreting Islamic sources and producing jurisprudence, with special attention paid to legal issues relating to women. Chapter 6 and 7 are devoted to a critical analysis of controversial fatwas on women issued by well-known jurists.

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  • Abu Zayd, Nasr Hamid. Rethinking the Qurʾān: Toward a Humanistic Hermeneutics. Amsterdam: Humanistics University Press, 2004.

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    In this short book, probably the best known among the works Nasr Abu Zayd published in English, the author exposes his hermeneutical methodology, which conceptualizes the Qurʾan as a living phenomenon, as a discourse rather than a text.

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  • Abu Zayd, Nasr Hamid. “The Status of Women between the Qurʾan and Fiqh.” In Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in Islamic Legal Tradition. Edited by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen, and Christian Moe, 153–168. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

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    One of the last contributions of Nasr Abu Zayd’s distinguished career, this short essay discusses how a new, contextual interpretation of the Islamic sources could be applied to gender issues in law, such as inheritance and male guardianship.

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  • Engineer, Asghar Ali. The Rights of Women in Islam. London: C. Hurst, 1992.

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    A now classic book on the rights of women in Islam, which follows the traditional approach by discussing the rights of Muslim women mainly in relation to family issues or to males. However, it had a remarkable influence on Islamic feminism for its effort “to separate what is contextual from what is normative” (p. vi).

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  • Esack, Farid. “Islam and Gender Justice: Beyond Simple Apologia.” In What Men Owe to Women: Men’s Voices from World Religions. Edited by John C. Raines and Daniel C. Maguire, 187–210. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    With an “awareness of the relationship between the struggle of women for gender justice and that of all oppressed South Africans for national liberation” (p. 190), the South African theologian Farid Esack applies his “liberative hermeneutics” of the Qurʾan to the controversial verse 4:34.

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  • Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qurʾan. Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980.

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    Highly influential study of the Qurʾan, which aims to find the “cohesive outlook” (p. xi) of the sacred text, through an approach that involves reading it intra-textually and holistically. One of the most often quoted works on tafsir by scholars of Islamic feminism.

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  • Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984.

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    Based on the ethical principles exposed in his Major Themes of the Qurʾan (Rahman 1980), Fazlur Rahman examines the development of education in Islamic religious sciences throughout history, from the glorious era of the Revelation, to the decline of independent reasoning during the Middle Ages, and finally to contemporary modernism.

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  • Shariati, Ali. Fatima is Fatima. Houston, TX: Book Distribution Center, 1983.

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    Collection of lectures on various women’s issues by Ali Shariati, in which the Iranian scholar reinterprets women figures that are central for Shiʿism, such as Fatima and Zaynab, emphasizing their activist dimension in the struggle against oppression.

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Feminist Readings of the Qurʾan: First Generation (1990s)

The works included in this section are autonomous, gender-egalitarian readings of the Qurʾan published by Muslim women scholars throughout the last decade of the 20th century. These works differ in their content as well in their stance on feminism. Wadud 1999 is widely considered to be the landmark work in gender-egalitarian tafsir, although other pioneering works can be identified in Hassan 1991, which focuses on the Creation story, and Mernissi 1991, in which selected Qurʾanic verses are discussed alongside problematic hadith. The contributors to Women Living Under Muslim Laws 1997 discuss the interpretation of the controversial Qurʾanic verse 4:34 and its relevance for Muslim family laws. Barlas 2002 offers an in-depth, comprehensive, and theoretical study of the Qurʾan that builds on the foundations posed by Wadud a decade earlier but rejects the “feminist” label. The articles included in Webb 2000 represent a useful introduction to the diversity of topics discussed by gender-egalitarian exegetes. Researchers interested in Sufism can find in Murata 1992 an original exegetical approach that refers to the mystical tradition of Islam and Taoism.

  • Barlas, Asma. “Believing Women in Islam”: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’ān. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

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    A pivotal work in the field of gender-egalitarian interpretation of the Qurʾan that offers a critical analysis of fundamental issues in Islamic thought, such as the nature of God and the concepts of prophethood and human viceregency. The book also contains a rereading of several Qurʾanic verses concerning marriage, sexuality, polygyny, and divorce.

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  • Hassan, Riffat. “The Issue of Women-Men Equality in the Islamic Tradition.” In Women’s and Men’s Liberation: Testimonies of Spirit. Edited by Leonard Grob, Riffat Hassan, and Haim Gordon, 65–82. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

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    Critical analysis of the Islamic narrative of the creation of woman and man. It aims to demonstrate the lack of textual support for the claim, based on the Qurʾan, of woman’s original inferiority to man.

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  • Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1991.

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    Originally published in French as Le harem politique (1987), this classic work discusses the status and role of women at the time of the prophetic revelation. The first part of the book focuses on the interpretation of the sacred texts, offering a critical analysis of some problematic hadith.

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  • Murata, Sachiko. The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

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    Valuable and original work that deals with the issue of gender in the Qurʾan and the Islamic tradition through a hermeneutic methodology explicitly based on the Taoist yin-yang symbolism. Refers to the mystical and philosophical traditions of Islam rather than to jurisprudence.

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  • Wadud, Amina. Qurʾan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    A key text in feminist interpretation of the Qurʾan, originally published in 1992. Relying mainly on Fazlur Rahman’s exegetical methodology, the author analyzes selected Qurʾanic verses on issues such as the creation of humanity, biblical stories, afterlife, legal rights of women in inheritance, marriage and divorce, and male authority.

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  • Webb, Gisela, ed. Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

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    Collection of essays by leading Muslim women scholars and theologians active in North America, promoting a gender-egalitarian reading of the Islamic sources, traditions, customs and laws. The first chapters (1–4) are focused on theoretical issues, offering a feminist rereading of the Qurʾan and fiqh.

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  • Women Living Under Muslim Laws. For Ourselves: Women Reading the Quran. London: Women Living Under Muslim Laws, 1997.

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    Transcript of a pioneer workshop on Qurʾanic interpretation organized by the feminist network Women Living Under Muslim Laws in 1990. The anonymous participants, women activists representative of a diversity of contexts and professions, discuss the interpretation of the Qurʾanic verse 4:34 and its relevance for Muslim laws concerning marriage and sexuality.

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Feminist Readings of the Qurʾan: Second Generation

This section includes gender-egalitarian readings of the Qurʾan published by Muslim women scholars since the early years of the new millennium. Having benefited from the tools and the arguments developed by their predecessors, the new generations of exegetes build on this heritage to develop new exegetical approaches and, in some cases, a critical reflection that addresses the methodological and epistemological assumptions of the process of Qurʾanic interpretation itself. Lamrabet 2016 takes the time to look at almost every woman mentioned in the Qurʾan. Barazangi 2004 opts for a pedagogical approach that takes the Islamic concept of taqwa, rather than gender, as a category of analysis for rereading the Qurʾan. Anwar 2006 relies on Islamic philosophy in approaching the sacred texts, while Youssef 2007 attempts an original reading of the Qurʾan through the lens of psychoanalysis. Lamptey 2014 applies the hermeneutical strategy elaborated by feminist theologians to the issue of religious pluralism. Ali 2006 is concerned with the interpretation of the Qurʾanic verses on sex in classic jurisprudence as well as in modern feminist commentaries, while Wadud 2006 clarifies and expands some of the topics discussed in her earlier work Qurʾan and Woman (Wadud 1999, cited under Feminist Readings of the Qurʾan: First Generation [1990s]). Hidayatullah 2014 offers a brilliant reassessment of the merits and limits of the work of the first generation of feminist interpreters of the Qurʾan.

  • Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

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    An essential work that offers a critical reading of the dominant sexual ethics in Islam, as elaborated by classical and modern scholars. It includes chapters on marriage, divorce, concubinage, homosexuality, illicit sex, FGM, sex and ritual purity, and child marriage.

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  • Anwar, Etin. Gender and Self in Islam. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Using a philosophical approach, this highly theoretical book traces the theological, social, cultural, and historical roots of gender hierarchy in Muslim contexts and their impact on the construction of the self. Major topics covered include Creation stories, women’s role in reproduction, and the construction of masculinity and femininity.

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  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez. Woman’s Identity and the Qurʾan: A New Reading. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

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    Through “a pedagogical reading of the Qurʾan,” this book deals with the major themes that dominate the debate on Muslim women, such as Creation stories, women’s modesty, and the notion of qiwama (male authority over women).

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  • Hidayatullah, Aysha. Feminist Edges of the Qurʾan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199359561.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Building on the work of scholars such Riffat Hassan, Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Azizah al-Hibri, Saʿdiyya Shaikh, and Kecia Ali, this book offers a critical reassessment of the “methodological rigidity often detected in feminist tafsir” (p. 147) and proposes some methodological and epistemological solutions to surpass currently existing limits in the discipline.

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  • Lamptey, Jerusha Tanner. Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199362783.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This original and widely acclaimed work applies a combination of the hermeneutical strategies elaborated by feminist theologians and the interpretative approach used by the Japanese scholar Toshihiko Izutsu to the topic of religious difference, in order to articulate a new model of religious pluralism in Islam.

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  • Lamrabet, Asma. Women in the Qurʾan: An Emancipatory Reading. Translated by Myriam Francois-Cerrah. Markfield, UK: Kube, 2016.

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    Originally published in French as Le Coran et les femmes: Une lecture de libération (2007). Following an introduction on the Creation story, Part 1 deals with female figures mentioned in the Qurʾan, while Part 2 discusses Qurʾanic provisions concerning women’s rights and duties.

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  • Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

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    Semi-autobiographical work in which Wadud clarifies and expands her gender-egalitarian hermeneutics strategy, and wages a jihad against gendered forms of injustice. Includes a reflection on the consequences she faced for having led a gender-mixed congregation in prayer in 1994 and 2005.

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  • Youssef, Olfa. Le Coran au risque de la psychoanalyse. Paris: Albin Michel, 2007.

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    Combining modern linguistics, semiotics, and psychoanalysis, this book offers a rigorous and provocative deconstruction of traditional interpretations of the Qurʾan and proposes alternative approaches. Special attention is paid to the idea of Qurʾanic ambiguity, the existence of which, according to Youssef, is God’s deliberate choice.

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Interpretation of the Qurʾanic Verse 4:34

The Qurʾanic verse 4:34 is frequently invoked by patriarchal exegetes as the clearest textual basis for the assumed Islamic normativity of hierarchical gender relations, to the point that it is often labelled by critics as the “beating verse.” Feminist interpreters of the Qurʾan have therefore devoted special attention to this verse and to the most problematic terms contained in it. Women Living Under Muslim Laws 1997 is an earlier publication that deals extensively with the topic; other fundamental sources for researchers interested in the interpretation of the verse are the special issue of Comparative Islamic Studies (Bauer, et al. 2006), which includes four articles approaching the topic from different perspectives, and Chaudhry 2013, the only monograph entirely dedicated to the history of the interpretation of this verse, in classical as well as in modern tafsir literature. Also, Shaikh 1997, Stowasser 1998, and Mahmoud 2006 are concerned with the deconstruction of the interpretations offered in classical and modern literature. Mubarak 2004 and al-Zeera 2013 are mainly concerned with the injunction wadribuhunna (“beat them”).

  • Bauer, Karen, Kecia Ali, Ayesha Siddiqua Chaudhry, and Laury Silvers. Special Issue: Qurʾan 4:34 (The Beating Verse). Comparative Islamic Studies 2.2 (2006).

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    Includes four papers on the controversial “beating verse.” Bauer presents a review of traditional interpretations, Ali focuses on the medieval jurist al-Shafiʿi and his school, Chaudhry surveys contemporary interpretative trends, and Silvers relies on the Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi’s ontology and ethics.

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  • Chaudhry, Ayesha. Domestic Violence and Islamic Tradition: Ethics, Law, and the Muslim Discourse on Gender. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199640164.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Merging Qurʾanic exegesis with a critical history of jurisprudence, this work is entirely dedicated to the interpretation of Qurʾanic verse 4:34. Part 1 deals with premodern (and precolonial) exegetical texts; Part 2 discusses modern debates on domestic violence.

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  • Mahmoud, Mohamed. “To Beat or Not to Beat: On the Exegetical Dilemmas over Qurʾan 4:34.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 126.4 (2006): 537–550.

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    An effective overview of the ethical and practical problems raised by verse 4:34 from the Qurʾan, with an analysis of the patriarchal responses offered by classical and modern scholars (Tabari, Zamakhshari, ʿAbduh and Rida, Mawdudi) and the feminist criticism provided by Hassan, Wadud, and Mernissi.

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  • Mubarak, Hadia. “Breaking the Interpretive Monopoly: A Re-examination of Verse 4:34.” Hawwa 3.2 (2004): 261–289.

    DOI: 10.1163/1569208043077288Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on Qurʾanic verse 4:34 and the word wadribuhunna (generally translated as “beat them” or “strike them”), first offering a historical contextualization of the misogynist biases contained in many classical commentaries, and then using the same methodology to reinvestigate the meaning of the verse.

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  • Shaikh, Saʿdiyya. “Exegetical Violence: Nushuz in Qurʾanic Gender Ideology.” Journal for Islamic Studies 17 (1997): 49–73.

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    Offers a critical in-depth analysis of the interpretation given to Qurʾanic verse 4:34 by three classical exegetes (Tabari, Zamakshari, and al-Razi), applying what Shaikh defines “an hermeneutic of suspicion,” aiming to highlight explicit and implicit patriarchal biases.

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  • Stowasser, Barbara. “Gender Issues and Contemporary Quranic Interpretation.” In Islam, Gender and Social Change. Edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito, 30–44. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Discusses how the “beating verse” (Q 4:34) has been interpreted by classical and modern scholars, comparing different perspectives (traditionalist, Islamist, modernist) with the aim of highlighting diversity of paradigms but also similarities and ideological linkages.

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  • Women Living Under Muslim Laws. For Ourselves: Women Reading the Quran. London: Women Living Under Muslim Laws, 1997.

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    Transcript of a pioneering workshop on Qurʾanic interpretation organized by the feminist network Women Living Under Muslim Laws in 1990. The first part of the pamphlet is entirely dedicated to the discussion of Qurʾanic verse 4:34.

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  • al-Zeera, Rabha. “Violence against Women in Qurʾan 4:34: A Sacred Ordinance.” In Muslima Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians. Edited by Ednan Aslan, Marcia Hermansen, and Elif Medeni, 217–230. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013.

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    A rather conservative analysis of the “beating verse” (Q. 4:34), which emphasizes how the conditions for “beating” are very limited and can be implemented by a man only in case of his wife’s infidelity.

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Female Figures in the Qurʾan

The works included in this section deal with the stories of women found in the Qurʾan, a topic that has received a great deal of attention in feminist tafsir. Stowasser 1994 and Lamrabet 2016 are two key texts in this regard, both discussing in detail the stories of several women spoken of in the Qurʾan. Hassan 1991 deals with the figure of Eve, including the stories of her creation and her role in the Fall, while both Abugideiri 2001 and Hassan 2006 are focused on Hagar. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is particularly relevant in the Qurʾan, as stressed in Abboud 2014, a work entirely dedicated to her figure. Researchers interested especially in the figure of Mary in the Qurʾan and in the Islamic tradition should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Mary in Islam.”

  • Abboud, Hosn. Mary in the Qurʾan: A Literary Reading. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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    Originally published in Arabic as Al-Sayyida Maryam fi-l-Quran al-Karim: Qira’a adabiyya (2010), the volume offers a stylistic and narrative analysis of the story of the Virgin Mary in the Qurʾan, in comparison with its biblical intertext, and an overview of classical and modern exegesis on the issue of her prophethood.

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  • Abugideiri, Hibba. “Hagar: A Historical Model for ‘Gender Jihad.’” In Daughters of Abraham: Feminist Thought in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and John L. Esposito, 81–107. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

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    Focuses on the figure of Hagar as an alternative model of leadership for modern Muslim women. Briefly discusses the work of Muslim feminist scholars (Amina Wadud, Amira Sonbol, Sharifa Alkhateeb), describing them as modern heirs of Hagar’s struggle.

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  • Hassan, Riffat. “Muslim Women and Post-Patriarchal Islam.” In After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions. Edited by Paula Cooey, William R. Eakin, and Jay B. McDaniel, 39–69. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

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    Examines the Qurʾanic depiction of Eve and the theological assumptions on which the belief of men’s superiority over women has been based: her creation from Adam’s rib to be his helper, and her responsibility in the Fall.

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  • Hassan, Riffat. “Islamic Hagar and Her Family.” In Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives. Edited by Phyllis Trible and Letty Russell, 149–167. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

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    Discusses the representation of Sarah and Hagar in the Qurʾan and Sunna, alongside that of Abraham, and the relevance of the Abrahamic heritage to Muslim culture in fundamental issues such as the direction of prayer (qibla) and the rites of pilgrimage.

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  • Lamrabet, Asma. Women in the Qurʾan: An Emancipatory Reading. Translated by Myriam Francois-Cerrah. Markfield, UK: Kube, 2016.

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    Originally published in French as Le Coran et les femmes: Une lecture de libération (2007). Part 1 is dedicated to the various female figures in the Qurʾan, identifying archetypes such as the Leader, the Passionate Lover, the Spiritual, the Mother, and the Sacrificial.

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  • Stowasser, Barbara. Women and the Qurʾan, Traditions, and Interpretation. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    A short and dense book that has become a classic, in which the representation of women figures in the Qurʾan is discussed alongside the ways in which classical and modern Muslim scholars of different backgrounds and perspectives (modernist, conservative, fundamentalist) have understood and interpreted them.

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Feminist Readings of the Sunna

Classical and modern tafsir literature has paid a great deal of attention to the records of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and words, as a fundamental tool for interpreting the Qurʾan. Despite this importance, generally speaking, feminist exegetes have approached the hadith tradition with suspicion, sometimes not consulting it at all in their interpretation of the Qurʾan. Two early exceptions to this rule are Mernissi 1991, in which some controversial hadith traditionally invoked to restrain women’s access to politics are examined in detail, and Stowasser 1994, which dedicates a chapter to the representation of Muhammad’s wives in hadith literature. Several scholars have noted the quantitative and qualitative scarcity of feminist work on hadith literature; see, for instance, Abdul Kodir 2013, which calls for further research while advancing methodological proposals. In recent years, a few remarkable works have been written to fill the gap in the feminist study of the Sunna, such as Barazangi 2015, which offers a systematic analysis of hadith literature on issues such as political authority, testimony, personal status laws, and access to knowledge; Shaikh 2004, focused on six hadith on women’s issues included in Bukhari’s classical collection; and Chaudhry 2015, which interrogates hadith literature on the issues of marriage, polygamy, and consent.

  • Abdul Kodir, Faqihuddin. “Gender Equality and the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad—Reinterpreting the Concepts of Maḥram and Qiwāma.” In Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in the Islamic Legal Tradition. Edited by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen, and Christian Moe, 169–190. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

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    Criticizing the dismissal of the hadith as a source for gender equality by previous modernist scholars, the author proposes a contextual, nonliteral hermeneutics of the hadith literature in the light of the Qurʾanic principle of justice, focusing on two specific hadith to exemplify his methodology.

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  • Barazangi, Nimat Hafez. Woman’s Identity and Rethinking the Hadith. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015.

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    Conceived as the continuation of Barazangi’s book Woman’s Identity and the Qurʾan (Barazangi 2004, cited under Feminist Readings of the Qurʾan: Second Generation), this volume analyzes and synthesizes the use (and abuse) of reported traditions of the Prophet to support patriarchal readings of the Qurʾan. Major topics covered include political authority, testimony, personal status laws, and access to knowledge.

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  • Chaudhry, Ayesha. “Producing Gender-Egalitarian Islamic Law: A Case Study of Guardianship (Wilaya) in Prophetic Practice.” In Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Edited by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki al-Sharmani, and Jana Rumminger, 88–105. London: Oneworld, 2015.

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    Offers a rereading of hadith literature concerned with the issues of marriage, polygamy, and consent, showing both the challenges and the opportunities that this literature offers to modern women engaged in promoting an egalitarian vision of marriage.

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  • Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1991.

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    The first part of this classic work, originally published in French as Le harem politique (1987), is an analysis of some controversial hadith traditionally invoked to restrain women’s access to the public sphere and, more specifically, to leadership roles.

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  • Shaikh, Saʿdiyya. “Knowledge, Women, and Gender in the Hadith: A Feminist Interpretation.” Islam and Muslim-Christian Relations 15.1 (2004): 99–108.

    DOI: 10.1080/09596410310001631849Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the construction of gender in the book of “knowledge” in Bukhari’s hadith literature. More specifically, applies a feminist hermeneutics to 6 of the 136 hadith contained in the collection, which are directly related to women and their sexuality.

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  • Stowasser, Barbara. Women and the Qurʾan, Traditions, and Interpretation. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Discusses the representation of women in the sacred texts of Islam. Chapter 9, “The Mother of the Believers in the Hadith” (previously published as an article in The Muslim World 82), focuses on the representation of Muhammad’s wives in the hadith literature.

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Feminist Readings of Classical Jurisprudence and Tafsir Literature

Beside Qurʾanic exegesis, the critical revision of classical theological and juridical literature has represented an important field of study for feminist tafsir. Feminist organizations, concerned with providing activists with the theoretical tools to push for reform of current personal status laws, have often solicited this kind of research. Two examples in this sense are Anwar 2009 and Mir-Hosseini, et al. 2015, both conceived as resource books for the international feminist network Musawah. The other works included in this section are academic in nature and cover a wide range of topics and perspectives. A broader analysis of the construction of a gender hierarchy in classical jurisprudence can be found in Bauer 2015, while Mir-Hosseini 2003 compares the opinions of medieval jurists with those expressed by modern fundamentalists and reformists. Among the thematic works, Ali 2006 offers a critical analysis of legal provisions concerning marriage and sexuality; Sabbah 1984 also focuses on sexuality, although using a literary approach; and Chaudrey 2013 discusses the issue of domestic violence. Shaikh 2012 moves the focus from jurisprudence to mysticism, analyzing the body of thought of the medieval Sufi writer Ibn Arabi.

  • Ali, Kecia. Sexual Ethics in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

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    An essential work exploring sexual ethics in Islam through a careful examination of the legal tradition, as elaborated by classical and modern scholars.

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  • Anwar, Zainar, ed. Wanted: Equality and Justice in Muslim Family Law. Selangor, Malaysia: Musawah, 2009.

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    Conceived as a resource book for the global feminist network Musawah, this work contains articles on gender inequalities in Muslim family laws. Includes several theoretical papers, a historical reflection, an overview of the diversity of legal and customary systems in Muslim contexts, and Musawah’s platform for action.

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  • Bauer, Karen. Gender Hierarchy in the Qurʾān: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139649759Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a critical deconstruction of the hierarchical conception of gender relations elaborated by medieval Muslim exegetes of the Qurʾan. Highlights the influence of the historical and intellectual context on their interpretation of Qurʾanic verses concerning legal testimony, marriage, and the Creation story.

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  • Chaudrey, Ayesha. Domestic Violence and Islamic Tradition: Ethics, Law and the Muslim Discourse on Gender. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199640164.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the interpretation of Qurʾanic verse 4:34 and its use by religious leaders and legislators to condone domestic violence and abuse. Part 1 discusses the content of the verse and its interpretation by medieval jurists; Part 2 focuses on contemporary debates between traditionalists, neo-traditionalists, and progressive and reformist scholars.

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  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. “The Construction of Gender in Islamic Legal Thought and Strategies for Reform.” Hawwa 1.1 (2003): 1–28.

    DOI: 10.1163/156920803100420252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the ways in which gender has been constructed in Islamic legal thought, exploring three different discourses—traditionalist (classical fiqh), neo-traditionalist (elaborated in the early 20th century), and reformist, arguing that it is “within this discourse that gender equality in law can be achieved” (p. 1).

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  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Mulki al-Sharmani, and Jana Rumminger, eds. Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. London: Oneworld, 2015.

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    Conceived as a resource book for the global feminist network Musawah, this collection of articles aims to challenge the religious and legal postulates of qiwama (authority) and wilaya (guardianship). Chapter 2 (pp. 44–64) investigates the evolution of the interpretation of the Qurʾanic term qawwamun in tafsir literature.

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  • Sabbah, Fatna. Woman in the Muslim Unconscious. New York: Pergamon, 1984.

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    Published under pseudonym by Fatima Mernissi (originally in French as La femme dans l’incoscient musulman), this provocative work analyzes the discourse on sexual desire, pleasure, and women found in the Qurʾan and in classical Islamic scholarship.

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  • Shaikh, Saʿdiyya. Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn ʿArabī, Gender, and Sexuality. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5149/9780807869864_shaikhSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this widely acclaimed work, the author examines the biography and writings of the 13th-century Sufi scholar Ibn ʿArabi through a feminist lens. The Sufi approach to gender and humanity, as embedded in Ibn ʿArabi’s cosmology, is presented as a historically grounded perspective for countering patriarchal interpretations of Islam.

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Scholarly Examinations of Feminist Tafsir

The works included in this section are secondary sources that have examined the writings of feminist exegetes, sometimes focusing on single authors, in other cases exploring methodologies, tools, and goals of Islamic feminism in a broader sense. The various essays included in Badran 2009 represent an excellent introduction to the study of feminist tafsir at a global level. Hidayatullah 2014 is a fundamental source for researchers interested in exegetical methodologies, although its focus is limited to the writings of scholars based in the United States. For methodological inquiries, researchers should refer also to Duderija 2011, which offers an interesting comparison between modernist and Salafist methods of Qurʾanic interpretation of verses concerning women. Each of the ten essays included in Taji-Farouki 2004 is dedicated to a specific author. Rahemtulla 2017 compares the exegetical methodology applied by Farid Esack, Asghar Ali Engineer, Amina Wadud, and Asma Barlas, while Rhouni 2010 is entirely focused on Fatima Mernissi’s work, although its acute observations are relevant to the study of feminist tafsir in a broader sense. For a secular critique of the potential and limits of a religiously oriented feminism, researchers should consult Moghissi 1999.

  • Badran, Margot. Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

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    Collection of essays on Islamic and secular feminism in Muslim contexts. Part 2 explores the emergence of Islamic feminism on a global level: Chapter 10 (“Islamic Feminism: What’s in a Name”) is an excellent introductory source to feminist tafsir for undergraduates and nonspecialists.

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  • Duderija, Adis. Constructing a Religiously Ideal “Believer” and “Woman” in Islam: Neo-Traditional Salafi and Progressive Muslims’ Method of Interpretation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230337862Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A thorough examination of the exegetical methodology applied by Salafi and progressive scholars in interpreting Qurʾan and Sunna, and their consequent conceptualization of womanhood and religious identity. Chapter 7 explores the views of progressive Muslim thinkers on female sexuality and spousal rights and obligations.

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  • Hidayatullah, Aysha. Feminist Edges of the Qurʾan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199359561.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive overview of contemporary anti-patriarchal exegesis produced by scholars located or active in the United States, which also provides a critical analysis of what the author considers the methodological and epistemological limits of the discipline.

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  • Moghissi, Haideh. Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis. London: Zed, 1999.

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    Highly controversial feminist critique of the postmodernist approach to studying Islamic fundamentalism and women’s history in a Muslim context. Chapter 7 explores the possibilities and limits of Islamic feminism, expressing concern for the “exuberant account of Islamic feminism” (p. 10) that overshadows other forms of feminist struggle.

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  • Rahemtulla, Shadaab. Qurʾan of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198796480.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work offers a painstaking analysis, in a comparative perspective, of four Qurʾanic commentaries published by leading reformist Muslim scholars: Farid Esack, Asghar Ali Engineer, Amina Wadud, and Asma Barlas.

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  • Rhouni, Raja. Secular and Islamic Feminist Critique in the Work of Fatima Mernissi. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2010.

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    Presents a careful examination of the work of Fatima Mernissi, exploring her intellectual trajectory from secular to Islamic feminism. Mernissi’s work is revisited to assess potential possibilities and pitfalls of Islamic feminism as a theory and a project, and to build the case for what Rhouni calls a “post-foundational Islamic feminism.”

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  • Taji-Farouki, Suha, ed. Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qurʾan. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Collection of essays outlining the work of ten prominent Muslim interpreters of the Qurʾan: Fazlur Rahman, Nurcholish Madjid, Amina Wadud (authored by Asma Barlas), Mohammed Arkoun, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Mohamed Mojtahed Shabestari, Mohamed Talbi, Huseyin Atay, Mohamed Shahrour, and Sadiq Nayhum.

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