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Muslima Theology

Muslima Theology
September 25, 2019 WWS

Title of Book: Muslim Theology: The Voices of Muslim Women Theologians

Author: Ednan Aslan, Marcia Hermansen, Elif Medeni (eds.) 

Published: Peter Lang Edition, 2013

Reviewer: C. Hine

Muslima Theology is part of a series of works from Wiener Islamstudien that seeks to bridge academic rigour with accessibility. With a wide variety of chapters, not too long, but rigorously argued and presented, this edition goes a long way to achieving that goal. 

It is an important contribution at a time when women’s voices are seeking a more prominent role in articulating Islam, and for this reason I highly recommend it to the When Women Speak… network. The range of areas covered but Muslima women provides important understandings of how women are talking about faith. Their representation of Islam is often at odds with orthodox interpretation and they provide an important window into ways women view and experience their religion, both intellectually and in their negotiation of the everyday.

In the introduction Ednan Aslan says: ‘While rooted in authentic Islamic sources and interpretive methodologies, the contributions from Muslima theologians featured in this collection clearly demonstrate their creative and future-orient­ed approach.’ (p. 10) This future-oriented approach draws our attention to some of the creative possibilities that Muslima women are imagining, ones which seem to be increasingly bringing creative pressure to bear within Islam for a more woman-inclusive rendering of faith.

Marcia Hermansen, in her introductory chapter, The New Voices of Muslim Women Theologians, identifies three waves of Muslim women’s voices, building from the concepts of three waves of feminism. She identifies the first wave among Muslim women as being associated with activism that focussed on education and the right to vote. Examples of these she points to include the early and later feminists in Egypt, Hoda Sharawi and Nawal al-Saadawi. The second wave she describes as engaging more directly with the interpretation of Islamic texts, and points to Fatima Mernissi and her comment that mass opinions would not be changed regarding women without engaging the religious texts. She identifies the 1980’s and 1990’s as the period of the third wave, particularly pointing us to trend to reject the feminist label as ‘western’ while at the same time a growing range of what was categorised as ‘Islamic feminisms’ was growing.

More recently, and where this book picks up, is the trend for reinterpreting the religious texts, reading against the grain and seeking to eliminate patriarchal assumptions that, these new interpreters, claim have underpinned earlier interpretations and their institutionalisation in laws. There are ongoing efforts to engage all aspects of the texts, including fiqh and other areas of tradition in use of texts. Added to these voices are the grassroots piety movements with their equally woman readings and renderings of the texts. 

What this book does is seek to represent something of the diversity of women’s theologies. Perhaps the title would have better represented the work if it had said theologies.

The book has four sections. The first is on the development of women’s theology and activism in Islam. This section seeks to make visible women’s roles throughout history in the development of reading, interpreting and applying the religious texts. The second section, on religious or theological anthropology, includes efforts at comparative theology. It includes the ways Muslim women are reading the creation story and the difficult text on beating. In section three there is a focus on Muslim women and Islamic religious law. Celine Ayat Lizzio has a very interesting chapter in this section examining purity laws where she examines a range of rules and their articulations and impact on women. Section four, which is the final section examines the present trends in Muslim women doing theology. A number of the chapters in this section are interesting because of the development of ‘conversation’ with women of other faiths and colour.

This is an interesting book because of the diversity of its contributors, and the way they help the outsider glimpse changes that are diversifying understandings and articulations of Islam. These diverse voices also invite conversation, particularly as some of them start that process through their reading of, and engagement of other women of faith’s work. They give a window into diversity within the reading and rendering of Islam and open new doors for women to read their religious texts together.

This book is an open access book and available on www.oapen.org and www.peterlang.com. I recommend it as a resource for all women, and men, seeking to engage with the changes in reading the religious texts of Islam, and the invitation it gives to conversations of faith.

(c) When Women Speak … September 2019

CH spent nearly three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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