Islamic Studies Female Islamic Education Movements
by
Masooda Bano
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0268

Introduction

Muslim societies have largely been effective in preserving the tradition of imparting basic Islamic knowledge to both male and female children, but for women this education has traditionally taken place within the home. Formal study of Islamic texts in a mosque or madrasa has largely been a male prerogative. In the early period of Islam, women were involved in the transmission of Islamic knowledge, especially Hadith studies, particularly in the cities of Damascus and Cairo, but their involvement remained sporadic and completely ceased in the 16th century. Since the 1970s, however, the formal study of Islamic texts among Muslim women has undergone a major revival. This is happening even in regions with no such prior history, such as South Asia. These movements take different forms, including female madrasas, Islamiyya schools, and informal study circles. However, across different contexts, it is possible to group these diverse platforms into two broad categories: formal and informal. The formal educational platforms, such as madrasas or Islamiyya schools, follow a set curriculum, hold examinations, and issue formal certificates; the informal platforms, which are organized mainly as weekly or biweekly study circles in homes, hotels, or mosques, adopt a looser structure. The teaching across these different platforms is largely focused on study of the Qurʾan (both tajwid and tafsir), followed by study of the Hadith; in the formal platforms, the curriculum also includes basic texts in aqida and fiqh. The emergence and steady spread of these movements has led to two key concerns among scholars. First, what impact do they have on women’s agency? Second, as women acquire specialist knowledge of Islam, will they challenge the authority of the ulama and reinterpret Islamic texts through a feminist lens? The evidence suggests that, unlike Islamic feminists, who have sought to reinterpret classical Islamic texts from a feminist perspective, women in these Islamic education movements actively defend the classical interpretations of the core Islamic rulings on gender relations and position themselves against feminist debates. But, equally, while defending the core Islamic rulings, these women reason and debate and, drawing on the plurality of Islamic legal reasoning, find creative ways to remain loyal to the core of the tradition while also staying actively engaged with modern realities. These movements are distinct from women’s wings of Islamic political parties; they are purely focused on education and are evident across both Sunni and Shiʿa contexts.

General Overviews

Scholarship on female Islamic education movements has emerged primarily since the early years of the present century. Before this, studies examining Muslim women’s engagement with the texts mainly focused on the work of Islamic feminist scholars who aimed to present a gender-sensitive reading of the Qurʾan (Badran 2009; Mir-Hosseini, et al. 2014). Recent studies have instead focused on mapping women’s contributions to preserving traditional Islamic scholarship in historical as well as contemporary periods. Nadwi 2007 presents a detailed analysis of Muslim women’s contribution to the acquisition and transmission of Islamic knowledge, especially Hadith studies, between the 1st and 9th centuries of Islam; Sayeed 2013 shares similar evidence, presenting profiles of a few prominent female scholars of Hadith and documenting their contributions. In their study of Nana Asma’u, daughter of Usman dan Fodio, founder of the 19th-century Sokoto Empire in West Africa, Mack and Boyd 2000 show how prominent Muslim women scholars occasionally emerged across different contexts. Mahmood 2005 is the first study to systematically record the modern emergence of women’s mosque movements. By focusing on the attention paid to the embodiment of pious behavior among women in the mosque movement that she studied in Cairo, Mahmood presents an influential critique of the feminist notion of female agency. However, by focusing too narrowly on ethical agency, she has been criticized for neglecting the creative reasoning demonstrated by women in the movements. Other studies have since then filled this gap. Bano 2017, for example, shows how women in these movements, even though respecting Islamic gender norms, use reasoning and debate to relate Islamic rulings to their contemporary realities; in particular, women from more educated and elite socioeconomic backgrounds engage with text in ways that enable them to remain engaged with modern institutions that dictate their everyday choices, while respecting the core Islamic rulings. Bano and Kalmbach 2012, an edited volume consisting of twenty-one chapters, each of which features a female preacher in a leading role, records similar creative agency within these movements (see also Hammer and Spielhaus 2013). The reasoning and approach of the women leading and participating in these female Islamic education movements is thus quite distinct from those of Islamic feminists, who, as summarized in Badran 2009, have tried to reinterpret the Islamic texts with reference to a secular feminist framework. The scholarship emerging on female Islamic education movements is thus new and distinct from the scholarship produced on Islamic feminists (see DeLong-Bas 2019 and the Oxford Bibliographies in Islamic Studies article “Women and Tafsir”).

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the intersection between secular and Islamic feminism. Presents a good summary of the key methodological tools that Islamic feminists have used to interpret Qurʾanic texts in light of the feminist agenda.

    Find this resource:

  • Bano, Masooda. Female Islamic Education Movements: The Re-democratisation of Islamic Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316986721Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents detailed ethnographies of both formal and informal female Islamic education movements in Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and Syria. Illustrates how women interpret the texts in light of their everyday realities, and how women from different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds raise different questions about the texts.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents twenty-one case studies of female preachers and analyzes how they establish their authority vis-à-vis their students, how they uphold traditional readings of the text, and how they normally draw on the support of male scholars rather than challenging them.

    Find this resource:

  • DeLong-Bas, Natana J. “Women, Islam, and the Twenty-first Century.” In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Edited by John L. Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an overview of women’s growing involvement in the sphere of religious education as teachers, preachers, and interpreters of law.

    Find this resource:

  • Hammer, Juliane, and Riem Spielhaus. “Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority: An Introduction.” In The Muslim World 103.3 (2013): 287–294.

    DOI: 10.1111/muwo.12013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The introduction to a special issue of The Muslim World that features articles on the exercise of Islamic authority by women and the challenges that they face. Some articles explicitly focus on women scholars who are leading prominent Islamic education movements. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Mack, Beverly B., and Jean Boyd. One Woman’s Jihad: Nana Asma’u, Scholar and Scribe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a detailed study of the life and contributions of Nana Asma’u to Islamic scholarship. She was the daughter of Usman dan Fodio, who led the powerful Sokoto Empire during the early 19th century. Shows how women occasionally made substantial contributions to Islamic scholarship, even in regions where historically there is no precedent for it.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with women in the women’s mosque movement in Cairo, the author questions the feminist conception of agency, which expects women to be always in opposition to established structures of power. Mahmood makes a powerful case for the recognition of ethical agency, though in the process fails to fully acknowledge the creative energy within these movements.

    Find this resource:

  • Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Mulki al-Sharmani, and Jana Rumminger, eds. Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. London: Oneworld Publications, 2014.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This volume brings together a collection of essays that challenge gender discrimination and the emphasis on male authority as legitimized within Muslim societies based on the Islamic legal tradition. The essays adopt a feminist perspective to problematize two dominant concepts in Islamic scholarship: qiwamah (husband’s authority over his wife) and wilayah (male members’ rights and duty of guardianship over female members).

    Find this resource:

  • Nadwi, Mohammad Akram. Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. Oxford: Interface Publications, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a comprehensive review of the involvement of Muslim women in the transmission of Islamic knowledge, especially Hadith, in the early centuries of Islam. Notes how the socioeconomic and political context influenced the extent of women’s participation in Islamic knowledge production.

    Find this resource:

  • 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 »

    Records the contributions of women scholars to the transmission and study of Hadith in the early periods of Islam. Presents detailed profiles of some prominent female scholars from the early centuries.

    Find this resource:

Informal Study Circles versus Formal Degree-Based Programs

Female Islamic education movements today take multiple forms. They operate as formal degree-issuing schools and madrasas, as well as loosely structured study circles. Mahmood 2005 (cited under General Overviews) focuses primarily on mosque-based women’s study circles in Cairo, which meet a few times a week to facilitate the study of the Qurʾan, Hadith, and tafsir. Omar 2013 focuses on the Qubaysiyyat movement in Syria, which became famous for organizing women’s home-based study circles even when the state attempted to regulate the religious sphere; Dale 2016 presents an ethnography of a mosque-based Qurʾanic education program in Damascus run by a female preacher, Huda al-Habash. Ahmad 2009 focuses on Al-Huda, a powerful female Islamic education movement in Pakistan, which began by hosting Islamic study circles in upscale hotels and attracted women from affluent families. Bano 2017 records the provision of formal Islamic education platforms in addition to these informal ones. In Syria, formal Islamic education courses on specific topics were offered in mosques under the supervision of the Ministry of Awqaf (see also Böttcher 2002); in Pakistan, female madrasas condense the eight-year curriculum designed for the training of male scholars to four years (for India, see Winkelmann 2005); and in northern Nigeria, female Islamiyya schools enable women to follow a set curriculum of Islamic sciences (see also Reichmuth 1989, Umar 2001). In addition to these organically evolving platforms, as Hassan 2012 and Rausch 2012 show for Turkey and Morocco, respectively, states in some Muslim countries have also started to facilitate the spread of Islamic education among women by appointing female preachers in the formal state religious bureaucracy. Bano 2017 records how teaching across these formal platforms mainly focuses on tajwid, tafsir, and study of Hadith. Jackson 2013 presents examples of both formal and informal Islamic education platforms for women in Indonesia.

  • Ahmad, Sadaf. Transforming Faith: The Story of Al-Huda and Islamic Revivalism among Urban Pakistani Women. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a detailed study of the Al-Huda movement in Pakistan, which runs a degree-awarding institute as well as holding informal study circles in hotels to draw in women from elite Muslim families.

    Find this resource:

  • Bano, Masooda. Female Islamic Education Movements: The Re-democratisation of Islamic Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316986721Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a detailed mapping of the different types of formal and informal Islamic education platforms operating in Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and Syria, and details the content of their teaching.

    Find this resource:

  • Böttcher, Annabelle. “Islamic Teaching among Sunni Women in Syria.” In Everyday Life in the Muslim Middle East. 3d ed. Edited by Donna Lee Bowen and Evelyn A. Early, 290–299. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents basic information about the mosque-based teaching facilities available to women in Syria. The information provided is relevant for the period before the start of the current civil war.

    Find this resource:

  • Dale, Moyra. Shifting Allegiances: Networks of Kinship and of Faith: The Women’s Program in a Syrian Mosque. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents details of an informal Qurʾanic education program for women run in a mosque in Damascus by a dynamic female preacher.

    Find this resource:

  • Hassan, Mona. “Reshaping Religious Authority in Contemporary Turkey: State-Sponsored Female Preachers.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 85–104. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents details of Islamic education programs run for women by female preachers trained under the Turkish Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs).

    Find this resource:

  • Jackson, Elisabeth. “Education: Women’s Religious: Indonesia.” In Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures Online. Edited by Suad Joseph. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an analysis of the different types of Islamic educational platform catering to women in Indonesia. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Maher, Brigid, dir. Veiled Voices. Washington, DC: American University, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This documentary profiles the experiences of three Muslim women (Dr. Su’ad Saleh of Egypt, Ghina Hammoud of Lebanon, and Huda al-Habash of Syria), who work toward establishing their religious and social authority in their local context.

    Find this resource:

  • Meltzer Julia, and Laura Nix, dirs. The Light in Her Eyes. New York: Cinema Guild, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This documentary profiles Huda al-Habash’s life as a Qurʾanic teacher in Damascus and the piety she aims to inculcate among her students through imparting Islamic education.

    Find this resource:

  • Omar, Sara. “Al-Qubaysiyyāt: Negotiating Female Religious Authority in Damascus.” The Muslim World 103.3 (2013): 347–362.

    DOI: 10.1111/muwo.12018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents basic information on the home-based study circles run by Qubaysi movement in Syria, noting their focus on the study of Hadith. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Rausch, Margaret J. “Women Mosque Preachers and Spiritual Guides: Publicizing and Negotiating Women’s Religious Authority in Morocco.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 59–84. Leiden, The Netherlands and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents details of the program run by the Moroccan state to facilitate Islamic education among women by the appointment of female preachers.

    Find this resource:

  • Reichmuth, Stefan. “New Trends in Islamic Education in Nigeria: A Preliminary Account.” Die Welt des Islams 29.1 (1989): 41–60.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains the emergence of Islamiyya schools in northern Nigeria in the latter half of the 20th century and notes their particular popularity among women.

    Find this resource:

  • Umar, Muhammad S. “Education and Islamic Trends in Northern Nigeria: 1970s-1990s.” Africa Today 48.2 (Summer 2001): 127–150.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Records the rise of Islamiyya schools in northern Nigeria and their popularity among women. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Winkelmann, Mareike J. From Behind the Curtain: A Study of a Girls’ Madrasa in India. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789053569078Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents the ethnography of a female madrasa in India and, among other things, records how the curriculum covers most of the core Islamic subjects, including aqida, sirah, and Hadith. Available online

    Find this resource:

Relationships with Male Religious Authority

Existing studies of female Islamic education movements agree that, unlike Islamic feminists, the women in these movements work in collaboration with, or with the support of, male scholars. Jaschok and Shui 2000, while tracing the history of women’s mosques in China, find similar evidence; Bano 2017 records this for the movements that the author covers in Pakistan, Syria, and northern Nigeria. Künkler and Kloos 2016 shows how female scholars rarely attain the status of mufti and that, even if they do, they normally deliberate on female issues only; The authors also note how within the communities there is generally a preference for male religious authorities to undertake such deliberations. Aryanti 2013 similarly shows how in Indonesia, despite having the right to lead mixed-gender prayers, female preachers never exercise this right or feel the need to raise this issue; Van Doorn-Harder 2006 similarly finds that the female scholars whom the author studied in Indonesia defend women’s interests by arguing from within the Islamic framework, rather than challenging it from the outside. All these studies also illustrate that these women build their authority vis-à-vis the students, not only by demonstrating their knowledge of the texts, but also by acting as role models. In addition, Ahmad 2013 records how women scholars leading Islamic education movements that attract modern-educated Muslim women acquire authority by demonstrating their ability to deal not just with Islamic subjects, but also with modern sciences.

  • Ahmad, Sadaf. “Al‐Huda and Women’s Religious Authority in Urban Pakistan.” The Muslim World 103.3 (2013): 363–374.

    DOI: 10.1111/muwo.12019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines how female scholars establish their authority vis-à-vis their students. Shows how a female scholar’s knowledge of modern subjects is important in order to convince the students that she can make Islam relevant for the contemporary realities that they face. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Aryanti, Tutin. “A Claim to Space: Debating Female Religious Leadership.” The Muslim World 103.3 (2013): 375–388.

    DOI: 10.1111/muwo.12020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Records that in Indonesia, where women’s right to lead mixed congregational prayers was approved by the Muhammadiyah Committee of Legal Affairs in 2010, none of the mosques actually has a woman leading the mixed prayers, nor do the female scholars regard this as a concern. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Bano, Masooda. Female Islamic Education Movements: The Re-democratisation of Islamic Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316986721Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence that in all the Islamic education platforms across Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and Syria that are covered in this volume, the female scholars work in collaboration with the male scholars, or maintain good terms with them. The more formal platforms, such as madrasas in Pakistan or Islamiyya schools in northern Nigeria, were actually often established by the male scholars, although led by women members of their families.

    Find this resource:

  • Jaschok, Maria, and Jingjun Shui. The History of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam: A Mosque of Their Own. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tracing the evolution of the women’s mosque movement in China, this study also records co-operation between female scholars, many of whom came from the families of male scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Künkler, Mirjam, and Roja Fazaeli. “The Life of Two Mujtahidahs: Female Religious Authority in Twentieth-Century Iran.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 127–160. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents details on two powerful female Shiʿa scholars who reached the rank of mujtahidah in twentieth-century Iran. While profiling these powerful personalities, they also note how, despite their status, they did not challenge the male scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Künkler, Mirjam, and David Kloos. “Studying Female Islamic Authority: From Top-Down to Bottom-Up Modes of Certification.” Asian Studies Review 40.4 (2016): 479–490.

    DOI: 10.1080/10357823.2016.1227300Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this introduction to a special issue on female Islamic authority in contemporary Asia, the editors argue for developing a bottom-up understanding of the reasons why in certain communities there is acceptance of female Islamic authority, while, in the majority of contexts, male authority is preferred. They also note how women rarely find themselves in senior positions, such as a being a mufti, and that, even when they do, their role is confined to deliberation on women’s issues. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Umar, Muhammad S. “Mass Islamic Education and the Emergence of Female Ulamaʾ in Northern Nigeria: Background, Trends, and Consequences.” In The Transmission of Learning in Islamic Africa. Edited by Scott S. Reese, 99–120. Leiden, The Netherlands and Boston: Brill, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence from northern Nigeria about the growing prominence of female scholars, and attributes this trend to greater access to Islamic education among women, due to the spread of Islamiyya schools. However, the author notes that even prominent female scholars like to draw on the support of the male scholars, rather than challenging them.

    Find this resource:

  • Van Doorn-Harder, Pieternella. Women Shaping Islam: Indonesia Women Reading the Qurʾan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This detailed study of women Islamic scholars in Indonesia records their defense of the traditional gender divisions in Islam. Arguing that men and women are meant to play different roles, these scholars are not setting out to challenge the traditional interpretations given by male scholars.

    Find this resource:

Islamic Education and Piety

Scholarship on these movements is in consensus that Islamic education in both the formal and informal platforms aims to inculcate Islamic values in women and develop in them a strong moral character. Bano 2012 records how in female madrasas in Pakistan there is a strong emphasis on training women to be good mothers and wives, and on making them appreciate this as a major role. The case studies presented in Bano and Kalmbach 2012 also show a similar emphasis placed on developing strong moral character as part of Islamic education. Begum and Kabir 2012 illustrates similar evidence for madrasa education in India, while Hoel 2016 does so for the madrasa the author observed in South Africa, Mahmood 2005 for the women’s mosque movements in Cairo, and Srimulyani 2007 for the madrasas in Indonesia.

  • Bano, Masooda. The Rational Believer: Choices and Decisions in the Madrasas of Pakistan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801450440.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While focused primarily on male madrasas, this volume features a detailed chapter on the rise and spread of female madrasas in Pakistan and the focus of their teaching. It records a strong emphasis within madrasa education on training women to be good mothers and daughters. Madrasa education makes women appreciate the fact that, as mothers, they play a key role as transmitters of Islamic knowledge to the next generation.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The cases presented in this edited volume show a shared emphasis on the inculcation of piety among the female participants across the movements studied. Islamic education is seen not solely as an intellectual project, but also as one aimed at embodying the Islamic values under study.

    Find this resource:

  • Begum, Momotaj, and Humayun Kabir. “Reflections on the Deobandi Reformist Agenda in a Female Quomi Madrasah in Bangladesh.” Journal of South Asian Studies 35.2 (2012): 353–380.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a case study of a madrasa in Bangladesh and notes a heavy emphasis on making girls live by Islamic moral and ethical guidelines. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Hoel, Nina. “Exploring Women’s Madrasahs in South Africa: Implications for the Construction of Muslim Personhood and Religious Literacy.” Religious Education 111.1 (2016): 30–48.

    DOI: 10.1080/00344087.2016.1124011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article examines cases of female madrasas in South Africa and finds them to be placing a heavy emphasis on inculcating pious behavior in the students. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This text has been instrumental in presenting women’s Islamic education movements primarily as piety movements. Its conceptual focus on establishing the importance of ethical and moral agency led to a particular emphasis on showing how women involved in the mosque movement in Cairo embody the Islamic ethical and moral framework.

    Find this resource:

  • Srimulyani, Eka. “Muslim Women and Education in Indonesia: The pondok pesantren Experience.” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 27.1 (2007): 85–99.

    DOI: 10.1080/02188790601145564Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Records how the pesantrens, the traditional madrasas in Indonesia, started to officially enroll female students in the 1930s. Elaborates on the current state of pesantren education for women in Indonesia, and argues that establishing gender equality remains a challenge, given an overall acceptance of Islamically defined gender divisions. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

Islamic Education and Feminist Agency

While inculcating a pious moral agency is indeed an integral element of Islamic education imparted through the female Islamic education movement, studies have emphasized how these movements do empower Muslim women to better defend their rights from within an Islamic framework. Unlike early Islamic feminists, who were generally Muslim academics based in universities (see Wadud 1999, Barlas 2002, Hammer 2012, Mernissi 2012), the teachers and students in these movements are largely trying to uphold the traditional readings, but they actively deliberate and reason to understand how Islamic dictates can inform their everyday life decisions in ways that do not unnecessarily confine them. Kalmbach 2008 shows how the Islamic education provided by the preacher Kalmbach studied in Syria enabled the students to assert greater authority within the household by improving their awareness of the rights given to them by Islam. Jaschok and Shui 2000, Van Doorn-Harder 2006, Huq 2008, Ahmad 2009, Rasmussen 2010, Bano 2012, Dale 2016, and most other ethnographic studies of female Islamic education movements and their members’ everyday life decisions present similar results.

  • Ahmad, Sadaf. Transforming Faith: The Story of Al-Huda and Islamic Revivalism among Urban Pakistani Women. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on the Al-Huda movement in Pakistan, which caters to women from upper-middle-income groups, this volume shows how women use the Islamic knowledge that they acquire in order to renegotiate gender roles within the household.

    Find this resource:

  • Bano, Masooda. The Rational Believer: Choices and Decisions in the Madrasas of Pakistan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801450440.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The chapter on female madrasas in this volume shows how female madrasa students become more confident in demanding greater autonomy within the household, especially vis-à-vis their husbands and their in-laws. Madrasa education also gives the women social recognition, as many become preachers in their local communities.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an independent reading of gender-related Qurʾanic injunctions that questions traditional interpretations of these roles in Islam.

    Find this resource:

  • Dale, Moyra. Shifting Allegiances: Networks of Kinship and of Faith; The Women’s Program in a Syrian Mosque. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how in addition to imparting Islamic knowledge, the mosque space provides women with a new community of social networks that competes for influence with traditional kinship networks.

    Find this resource:

  • Hammer, Juliane. “Activism as Embodied Tafsir: Negotiating Women’s Authority, Leadership, and Space in North America.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 457–480. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the contributions of Amina Wadud, who attracted much public attention after leading a mixed-gender prayer session in New York, to challenging traditional Islamic positions on gender norms, and assesses the reception given to her arguments by Muslims in North America.

    Find this resource:

  • Huq, Maimuna. “Reading the Qurʾan in Bangladesh: The Politics of ‘Belief’ among Islamist Women.” Modern Asian Studies 42.2–3 (2008): 457–488.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X07003149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with female Qurʾanic study circles in Bangladesh, this article shows how teaching in these circles did encourage discipline and piety among the female participants. However, it shows how participation in these circles also inculcated a modern subjectivity among women.

    Find this resource:

  • Jaschok, Maria, and Jingjun Shui. The History of Women’s Mosques in Chinese Islam: A Mosque of Their Own. Richmond, UK: Curzon, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how, while asserting their own space and adapting to modern realities, women in these mosques largely uphold traditional Islamic values.

    Find this resource:

  • Kalmbach, Hilary E. “Social and Religious Change in Damascus: One Case of Female Islamic Religious Authority.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 35.1 (2008): 37–57.

    DOI: 10.1080/13530190801890238Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses the case study of the same female preacher in Damascus as the one profiled by Dale 2016, to show that while respecting traditional Islamic rulings on gender norms, Islamic education enables Muslim women to assert greater autonomy within their families.

    Find this resource:

  • Khatun, Yoynab. “Islamic Education in India with Especial Reference to the Women Sector of India.” International Research Journal of Interdisciplinary & Multidisciplinary Studies 2.8 (2016): 80–86.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on the experiences of students at female madrasas in India, the article illustrates how madrasa education also empowers students in the secular sphere by increasing their social standing within the community.

    Find this resource:

  • Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam. Reprint ed. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This has been an influential text within the Islamic feminist scholarly tradition. It challenges the traditional reading of gender norms in classical Islamic texts from a feminist perspective. Older version available online.

    Find this resource:

  • Rasmussen, Anne. K. Women, the Recited Qurʾan, and Islamic Music in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520255487.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how acquiring command over Qurʾanic recitation becomes both a signal of pious behavior and a means to acquiring social capital within the community.

    Find this resource:

  • Van Doorn-Harder, Pieternella. Women Shaping Islam: Indonesia Women Reading the Qurʾan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By focusing on the discourses and reasoning of female scholars in Indonesia, this study shows how, while respecting the divisions in gender roles prescribed in traditional Islamic sources, these women create new spaces for women to negotiate greater liberties from within an Islamic framework.

    Find this resource:

  • Wadud, Amina. Qurʾan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A major attempt to reinterpret the Qurʾanic rulings on gender from a feminist perspective. Available online.

    Find this resource:

Islamic Knowledge and the Socioeconomic Profile of the Learner

Studies of female Islamic education movements also show that the nature of teaching and discussions across the different platforms varies in response to the socioeconomic and educational profile of the women concerned (Mahmood 2005, Bano 2017). Jeffery, et al. 2012 shows how, in rural madrasas in India, the knowledge imparted is very basic and often revolves around making the girls observe basic hygiene and ritual practices. Minesaki 2012 similarly illustrates how the woman preacher Minesaki observed in rural Cairo differs in her teaching style from the one she observed teaching in Cairo city. Comparing the debates taking place across the different platforms observed in Pakistan, northern Nigeria, and Syria, Bano 2017 shows how women from upper-income groups ask very different questions in the study circles than those asked by women in study circles held in rural or low-income neighborhoods; the level of debate is also different, with the teachers in the former being more exposed to critical questioning. Mahmood 2005 acknowledges similar class-based differences in an ethnography of the women’s mosque movement in Cairo. Hefner 2016 similarly shows how a socioeconomic class dimension influences women’s engagement with Islamic texts. Across these movements, Islamic texts are being interpreted in the contexts of the everyday realities faced by the women joining them. While there is commitment to abide by the core Islamic legal dictates, in terms of finding answers to everyday questions, the teachers and the students use pragmatic judgment and reasoning to consider how they can balance the demands of their religion with those of modern life (Van Doorn-Harder 2006, Bano 2017). There is thus much creative potential within these movements to generate an alternative modernity that enables these women to be productive members of modern institutions, yet also operate within an Islamic-inspired frame of reference, instead of shaping Islamic dictates to fit Western feminist frameworks.

  • Bano, Masooda. Female Islamic Education Movements: The Re-democratisation of Islamic Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316986721Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses primarily on establishing that the socioeconomic and educational profile of the students makes a major difference in the way in which they engage with the texts, as well as the questions that they ask. Those from elite and upper-income groups, in particular, focus on questions relating to their participation in modern institutions, while those from rural areas or urban households within the low- to middle-income groups normally ask questions about responsibilities within the household.

    Find this resource:

  • Hefner, Claire-Marie. “Models of Achievement: Muslim Girls and Religious Authority in a Modernist Islamic Boarding School in Indonesia.” Asian Studies Review 40.4 (2016): 564–582.

    DOI: 10.1080/10357823.2016.1229266Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By analyzing an example of a female Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta, the author shows that the demand for Islamic education is inversely linked to women’s opportunities for modern education and employment. As other opportunities increase for women of middle-class families, the demand for formal madrasa education (not Islamic education per se) declines. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Jeffery, Patricia, Roger Jeffery, and Craig Jeffrey. “Leading by Example? Women Madrasah Teachers in Rural North India.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 195–216. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this chapter shows how, in rural madrasas in India, the level of education provided is very elementary and is primarily focused on establishing basic hygiene and ritual practice, rather than on the pursuit of higher learning.

    Find this resource:

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

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Acknowledges that the level and content of discussions varied across the study circles observed, based on the socioeconomic profiles of the participants and the neighborhood in which a mosque was located.

    Find this resource:

  • Minesaki, Hiroko. “Gender Strategy and Authority in Islamic Discourses: Female Preachers in Contemporary Egypt.” In Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority. Edited by Masooda Bano and Hilary E. Kalmbach, 393–412. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2012.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an ethnographic account of the daily activities of two female preachers and their students during the dars sessions, one based in Cairo city and the other in a suburb. Shows how the different profiles of the women and their different contexts shape their discussions and engagement with the texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Van Doorn-Harder, Pieternella. Women Shaping Islam: Indonesia Women Reading the Qurʾan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how Muslim scholars are unwilling to compromise on the core rulings of Islam. However, the author also shows how, while defending the core Islamic rulings that seem opposed to feminist rulings, these women are able to advance women’s interests from within an Islamic frame of reference.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down