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American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism

Juliane Hammer
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    American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism
    Book Description:

    Following the events of September 11, 2001, American Muslims found themselves under unprecedented scrutiny. Muslim communities in the United States suffered from negative representations of their religion, but they also experienced increased interest in aspects of their faith and cultures. They seized the opportunity to shape the intellectual contribution of American Muslims to contemporary Muslim thought as never before. Muslim women in particular-often assumed to be silenced, oppressed members of their own communities-challenged stereotypes through their writing, seeking to express what it means to be a Muslim woman in America and carrying out intra-Muslim debates about gender roles and women's participation in society. Hammer looks at the work of significant female American Muslim writers, scholars, and activists, using their writings as a lens for a larger discussion of Muslim intellectual production in America and beyond.

    Centered on the controversial women-led Friday prayer in March 2005, Hammer uses this event and its aftermath to address themes of faith, community, and public opinion. Tracing the writings of American Muslim women since 1990, the author covers an extensive list of authors, including Amina Wadud, Leila Ahmed, Asma Barlas, Riffat Hassan, Mohja Kahf, Azizah al-Hibri, Asra Normani, and Asma Gull Hasan. Hammer deftly examines each author's writings, demonstrating that the debates that concern American Muslim women are at the heart of modern Muslim debates worldwide. While gender is the catalyst for Hammer's study, her examination of these women's intellectual output touches on themes central to contemporary Islam: authority, tradition, Islamic law, justice, and authenticity.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73557-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    It was the prayer of a Muslim woman, standing, bowing, and prostrating “head to the ground,” that would leave its mark on Muslim debates about gender, women, and tradition. Like the sister in Suheir Hammad’s poem, she and those praying with her performed their prayer in the prescribed form, and yet some aspects were different. On March 18, 2005, Amina Wadud, professor of Islamic studies,¹ gave the Friday sermon to a mixed-gender congregation and subsequently led the same congregation in Friday prayer in New York City. While it was not the first time a Muslim woman led men and women...

  6. 1 A Woman-Led Friday Prayer: March 18, 2005
    (pp. 13-35)

    I was not there. I did not attend the mixed-gender congregational Friday prayer, led by Amina Wadud, on March 18, 2005. I am not sure whether I heard about the event when it was announced or whether I followed the debate at the time. It was early in 2006, in a conversation with one of my students, Rachel Hinson, that I first considered the event with academic interest. I was starting to experience tensions between my identity as a Muslim woman and the expectations of the secular study of religion. To address this tension I developed an interest in the...

  7. 2 Women Leading Prayers: Tracing the Debate
    (pp. 36-55)

    Sympathy and hope, on one end of the spectrum, and rejection and condemnation, on the other, characterized the heated debate about the woman-led Friday prayer and khutbah on March 18, 2005. Sumbul Ali-Karamali introduces several dimensions of the discussion of women’s prayer leadership, including authority, plurality of opinion, and her wish for a different kind of personal prayer experience. Each of these dimensions were echoed in the discussions before and after the prayer in March 2005.

    This chapter traces the contours of this debate. It points to the significance of various forms of media in facilitating it; it highlights the...

  8. 3 Gender Justice and Qurʾanic Exegesis
    (pp. 56-76)

    The quotation above serves as a useful transition from the woman-led prayer event and the surrounding controversy to the broader topic of American Muslim women’s exegetical projects.¹ In this chapter I argue that the prayer event built on several decades of exegetical engagement with the Qurʾan by American Muslim women scholars and activists. It translated women’s insistence on reading and discovering gender justice and equality in the sacred text into a historical event that in turn affected the exegetical projects. The significance of the prayer event and its connection to American Muslim women’s exegeses is emphasized through an analysis of...

  9. 4 History, Women's Rights, and Islamic Law
    (pp. 77-99)

    Qurʾanic exegesis (tafsir) and the systematic development of Islamic legal rulings and regulations (fiqh) are distinct areas of the traditional Islamic sciences. They are also intricately linked with each other and with a third important component, hadith science. More specifically, both tafsir and hadith science became important tools for the derivation of legal rulings, especially in the eighth through tenth centuries when the Islamic legal schools (madhahib, sing.madhhab) emerged. Kecia Ali’s statement above reminds us not to take for granted the construction of an integrated, canonical, and self-contained Islamic tradition, legal and otherwise, but rather to see the negotiation...

  10. 5 Authority, Tradition, and Community
    (pp. 100-123)

    Here shariʿah is understood as Islamic Law applied by and to Muslim individuals and societies, which is more correctly the science of fiqh. It is a path to God, with emphasis on its individual dimension. However, as an Islamic legal scholar Abou El Fadl has focused on the collective interpretations and negotiations of shariʿah in Muslim societies and communities through the complex methodologies and schools of fiqh. His aptly titled book,Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority, and Women, points to the significance of those who have historically assumed the role of interpreters of the Divine Will, theʿulama.¹...

  11. 6 Space, Leadership, and Voice
    (pp. 124-146)

    The opening narration of the 2005 documentaryMe and Mosque, directed by Zarqa Nawaz, serves as an introduction to several issues associated with the presence, participation, and significance of Muslim women for and in North American mosques and communities. Her statement assumes that women once had a significant presence, at least in her mosque, and that this presence would be a reflection of fairness and ultimately justice. Nawaz claims that women are treated unfairly by being excluded from the main space of the mosque and by extension from leadership positions within mosques and communities. The film goes on to chronicle...

  12. 7 Media, Representation(s), Politics
    (pp. 147-170)

    This assertive statement by the American Muslim scholar, novelist, and poet Mohja Kahf serves as a thought-provoking introduction to this chapter, not least because it allows insight into the debates surrounding the representation of Muslim women and the connection of such representations to American Muslim women’s writings and their active engagement with media production. This chapter analyzes the media dimension of the woman-led prayer and its connection to representations of American Muslim women. One purpose of the prayer, to challenge the “dominant narrative of the Muslim woman,” overlaps with the active engagement of American Muslim women writers with various forms...

  13. 8 Memoirs, Narratives, and Marketing
    (pp. 171-192)

    This collective self-description is as much descriptive as it is programmatic.Living Islam Out Loud, published in 2005 and edited by Abdul-Ghafur, one of the organizers of the woman-led prayer, joined a growing number of similar texts—memoirs and personal or autobiographical narratives written by American Muslim women. Reading a number of such texts together reveals that these works form a subgenre of “speaking out” literature that is united by three broad goals: challenging and changing monolithic representations of Muslim women, engaging and negotiating Muslim communities in North America, and creating, defining, and saving American Muslim women’s Muslim faith identities....

  14. 9 Covers and Other Matters: Concluding Thoughts
    (pp. 193-207)

    These lines from Mohja Kahf’s poem serve as the introduction to the concluding chapter of this book. Rather than summarize the many dimensions of the discussion offered in these pages, it develops thoughts on those who are not addressed in the book and are in need of further consideration.

    The lines above address one important aspect of the study of Muslim women, whether in America or elsewhere, whether in the past or the present, which is the “issue” of hijab, or the Muslim headscarf. No other aspect of Muslim women’s studies has received, deservedly or not, more public and scholarly...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 209-238)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 239-260)
  18. Index
    (pp. 261-271)