Woman & Islam

The sisters in The Who & the What, Mahwish and Zarina are as different as any two sisters in literature — like Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, except millennial and Muslim. Mahwish’s anxiety about Zarina’s book topic is rooted in the fact that many people have opinions about “Women and Islam,” perhaps especially those who are neither female nor Muslim. Below, we have collected quotes from prominent Islamic scholars on the topics of Islamic feminism and the tensions between the absolute spiritual equality between men and women in Islam and the social and political realities of gender inequality worldwide.

“What we are seeing today is a claim by women to their right to God and the historical tradition. This takes various forms. There are women who are active within the fundamentalist movements and those who work on a reinterpretation of the Muslim heritage as a necessary ingredient to our modernity. Our liberation will come through a rereading of our past and a reappropriation of all that has structured our civilization.” – Fatima Mernissi (Moroccan Feminist Writer and Sociologist, 1940-2015)

“What is Islamic feminism? Let me offer a concise definition: it is a feminist discourse and practice articulated within an Islamic paradigm. Islamic feminism, which derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur’an, seeks rights and justice for women, and for men, in the totality of their existence. Islamic feminism is both highly contested and firmly embraced. There has been much misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and mischief concerning Islamic feminism. This new feminism has given rise simultaneously to hopes and to fears.” – Margot Badran (American Historian)

“If we are Muslims, whether or not believing or practicing, Islam is part of our identity, our way of life, a culture, a system of values. We may be at ease with it or find our position painful and ambiguous.” – Zika Mir-Hosseini (Iranian-Born Legal Anthropologist)

“The real challenge for Muslim feminists today is not simply to prove Islam’s compatibility with women’s rights, but how to empower and include women in the political apparatus of the postcolonial Islamic state, which remains for the time being (with few exceptions) inaccessible to the Muslim masses, male and female alike.” – Lamia Ben Youssef Zayzafoon (Author, Tunisia)

 "My resistance to feminism stems not from its central premise that women and men are equally human and deserving of equal rights, but from two facts: First, I dispute the master narrative of feminism that claims this insight as a peculiarly feminist discovery. In my own case, for instance, I came to the realization that women and men are equal as a result not of reading feminist texts, but of reading the Qur’an. In fact, it wasn’t until much later in my life that I even encountered feminist texts. But I do owe an intellectual debt to feminist theorizing about patriarchy and for having given me the conceptual tools to recognize it and talk about it. Second, it seems to me that, for the most part, feminism has secularized the idea of liberation itself such that feminists often assume that to be a believer is already to be bound by the chains of a false consciousness that precludes liberation.” – Asma Barlas (Pakistani, Sought Political Asylum in the Us, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College) 

"With respect to gender, I think that the Qur’an contains two moments, which can support two opposing perspectives. As a believer who sticks to equality and justice above all, I see these values to be the core of Islam. There are clear moments in the Qur’an that support this vision. But objectively, I can also see that the Qur’an contains an androcentric language, and, therefore, cannot adhere to an easy, naïve discourse that declares Islam or the Qur’an as feminist, or that gender equality is normative in the Qur’an. … Emphasizing the spiritual gender equality of the Qur’an should not lead to avoidance of dealing with its patriarchal discourse.” – Raja Rhouni (Moroccan Academic)

“As we engage more deeply with the intellectual heritage of centuries of Muslim thinkers, we must neither romanticize the tradition as it stands nor be blindly optimistic about prospects for transformation within it. Most importantly, as we expose reductive and misogynist understandings of the Qur’an … [w]e must accept responsibility for making particular choices — and must acknowledge that they are interpretative choices, not merely straightforward reiterations of ‘what Islam says.’” – Kecia Ali (American Scholar, Boston University)

“Delving into memory, slipping into the past, is an activity that these days is closely supervised, especially for Muslim women. A passport of such a journey is not always a right. The acts of recollecting, like acts of black magic, really only has an effect on the present. And this works through a strict manipulation of its opposite — the time of the dead, of those who are absent, the silent time that could tell us everything. The sleeping past can animate the present. That is the virtue of memory. Magicians know it, and the imams know it too.” – Fatima Mernissi (Moroccan Feminist Writer and Sociologist, 1940-2015)


© 2021 The Huntington. All rights reserved | Trouble viewing this site? Please download Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.