Women in Islam:
A COURSE OUTLINE
Rationale, Objectives, Design & Mechanics
[For an Intensive Summer Course]
More than a focus of inquiry "Women in Islam," as an academic course, is developing into a field of study that lies at the intersection of a number of specializations including Islamic studies, development studies and women's studies proper. The approaches to its subject matter are as diverse and overlapping as the disciplines that treat the subject can be. In addition to being a theoretical field of growing complexity, its vitality as an area of culture-politics and public policies adds to the urgency of developing an adequate understanding of the topic. It is the purpose of this course to contribute to such understanding by cultivating a critical sensibility to both the subject and the field. This objective is reflected on the way the course is structured.
Participants are expected to have a basic knowledge of the status of women in Islam, their history and the roots of the modern debate on women in the Muslim world. An initial familiarity with a range of literature in the field should be acquired prior to the course. The list of assigned readings, together with some specially prepared material which will be piloted in this course, should serve this end. The thrust of the intensive sessions which follow between June 21-25 will dwell on two aspects: The first introduces participants to a shaping paradigm and discourse on the subject at hand as it is currently developing from within a burgeoning Islamic scholarship, and about which little is known in mainstream American academy. This will be the subject of a five part lecture series. The afternoon sessions will be designed as workshops organized round the current literature, reviewing the scholarship in the field with the accent shifted to comparative perspectives. The workshop will also provide a forum for discussing and developing some of the ideas and concepts raised in the lectures. Visual and audio-visual material will be used wherever possible to illustrate, reinforce and offer students a chance of first-hand exposure to issues in context. Notwithstanding the density of the program and the very real time constraints, it might still be possible to accommodate this feature within the allotted schedule. In addition to a file of select readings made available in advance in the library of the Seminary, some supplementary handout will be circulated for the lectures and discussions. Combining a lecture/ worshop format along the aforementioned lines is deemed to balance the emphasis on specifically Islamic perspectives with a broader exposure to representative currents in the conventional scholarship in the field.
The essentially novel feature in this course lies in its concern for cultivating a critical sensibility to alternative perspectives on a significant and controversial topic. Its focus on introducing students to some of the creative energies that inform the field - and indeed extend beyond it - provides the backdrop for a critical appreciation. The organization of the course is intended to stimulate an optimum degree of involvement through the interactive format it assumes. The subject matter with its variety and complexity readily lends itself to this format: the founding community, the status and changing role of women in Islam, socialization processes, the influence of role models, the encounter with the West, contending responses, the feminist movement and the "return of the veil", the nature and stakes of the relevant ongoing debates, their parties and their contexts, and of how all this is represented or misrepresented in the interested literature - such is suggestive of the vast repertoire that can feed and animate a genuine and exciting learning experience. With the course emphasis on acquiring the nuts and bolts of a craft, the ways and means to learning about the different dimensions of the subject, it should be possible for students to develop the skills and insights that would enable them by the end of the course to handle with relative ease and competence/ confidence the wide-ranging sources, resources and the ever growing literature that deals in a challenging and vital area of inquiry.
The following is an initial topical breakdown of the course outlining the central themes in a sequel of five lecture sessions. I will make some of my present work whether in its finished format or otherwise available to course participants on the understanding that it is for restricted circulation.* In addition some relevant readings will be suggested for each lecture.** While the workshops will essentially supplement the lectures, they will also have a "separate agenda" to highlight some additional themes.
First: Reconstructing the Curriculum.
A general orientation introducing the major themes of the course and highlighting its objectives and approach. Questions will be raised pertaining to methodology and to the challenges of reconstructing the curriculum in the area of Islamic studies in general and studies on Women in Islam in particular. Suggested readings include:
Understanding Gender in Muslim Societies*
Second: Islamic Perspectives in Studying Women in Islam
How do we define an Islamic perspective? Do all studies by Muslim scholars qualify for an Islamic Perspective? Does all work conducted in an "islamic perspective" qualify as scholarly activity? Islamic scholarship and western scholarship: definitions, distinctions and classifications; Questions of validity, viability and representation in the respective paradigms of inquiry in socio-cultural studies. Introducing the "Tawhidi Episteme" as an Islamic perspective for gender and women studies in general and for studying women in Islam in particular.
, "Revisiting the Woman Question: Tawhidi Perspectives" *
"Towards a New Sociology" *
Third: Engendering Community
Engendering Community as analytical category and strategic access to the study of Women in Islam at the normative and empirical levels. Such areas as family legislation, socialization, role models in the past and present will be addressed in this context. Contrary to the dichotomies that define the field in western studies, the practical implications of a tawhidi episteme and its analytical categories will be shown to be more meaningful and relevant to understanding some of the specificities of the Muslim setting that are often lost on the outsider. Such topical issues as women in the intifada and women in the Afghani Jihad together with less known events as women in crisis communities and women in "development", such will be highlighted against the ideal and the precedent to shed more light on the nature of a dynamic continuity in change and a momentum of renewal through adversity. Role versatility and fluid boundaries are discussed as a function of engendering community.
Engendering Community: Framework of Inquiry *
Fourth: Feminism, Femininity, and the Islamic Revival: These issues will be discussed in the context of the colonial encounter and its mixed implications through a chronic crisis of power and identity (and the challenges of reconstruction and development, if not sheer survival) in the Muslim world. Themes in Muslim feminist scholarship will be examined and some of the soul-searching , recriminations and dissensions among Islamicists will be explored against the background of some 'brave new departures' in both areas of scholarship and politics.
Fifth: An Overview: The elements of change and continuity in the politics and scholarship of gender in the Muslim world.
Here we review the promises and challenges to applying and further developing an Islamic paradigm of inquiry. We pose the question of whether and how it can also contribute to re-orienting the literature in the field, both in studying women in Islam / and in Muslim communities, and more generally in comparative studies on women and gender in post-modern as well as in third world societies. Significantly, an Islamic paradigm as proposed here in this outline helps redefine the field of scholarship and gender in a manner that is likely to enhance a genre of social inquiry that is more meaningful, relevant and ethically responsible. We try to examine the extent to which these attributes qualify current efforts in the field of feminist scholarship in general and the convergences and divergencies from their counterpart in the field of Islamic scholarship as well as the more general scholarship on the Muslim world. In taking the subject of women in Islam for our focus we can draw in the strands from a range of radical or methodologically self-conscious literature to redefine our own terrain.
The focus in the afternoon meetings will be on cultivating reading and discussion skills. We shall want to see how the insights and perspectives raised in the morning lectures could be brought to bear on current scholarship. To do so however we shall first need to appreciate the diversity of the literature in the field and to become aware of the relative merits and limitations of existing perspectives. Here we will need to critically evaluate both categories of literature : research and writing conducted according to prevailing (western) canons of scholarship and its counterpart reflecting conventional Muslim inquiry into the field. The organizational focus for this exercise will be a set of "Summaries/ Abstracts and Overviews" based on a selection of articles or chapters in select works. Students will take this set as an initial guideline to their own readings and presentations to identify the approaches that they choose to examine, or to highlight characteristic features of the article or book they review as well as to orient them to the topics they will choose for their course essay. The summaries and overviews are not intended as a substitute for the articles themselves and the overviews are merely an illustration of what is expected of the student in her or his own research in the field.
Special attention will be given to writing by Muslim feminists and to writing by contemporary Muslim activists and Muslim scholars. Students are encouraged to identify sources that can contribute to the workshop discussions in addition to those assigned or recommended in this course. The focus in the latter will mostly be on works written in Arabic and some summary handouts or notes will be circulated during class. Abdel Halim Abu Shaqqa, Hassan Turabi, Muhammad Al Ghazali, and the dissertation by Hiba Raouf Izzat constitute a core structure for this part of the workshop.
Women in Islam is not a subject that can be debated out of context. Whether we are looking at an ongoing debate, or whether we go to the field to locate certain policy issues or to determine patterns of relationships or "life-styles" and role models, there is always a context for our subject. Beyond the debates on Women in the Muslim world today, what is the context of their actualities? Can 'development, underdevelopment and modernization' exhaust this context, ie. the theme of "Change" ? How important is it to grasp the context of the struggle for survival, identity, liberation etc. in a cultural and social context? On the other hand, there are certain aspects of Women in Islam which cannot be adequately understood outside a holistic matrix of concepts - a total worldview on creation, procreation, life in the here and now and life in the hereafter, the vistas of human agency and human responsibility. We call this the paradigmatic context of an issue: and issues like human sexuality, the veil, modesty, and the related moral code and practical legislation all fall in this area of inquiry. The PBS award winning Swedish production on "The Miracle of Life" will be taken as a backdrop for such a discussion of sexuality in context. Depending on availability and time, one or more of the following episodes, or documentary films will be viewed for discussion: "The Long Search: Islam in Egypt" (BBC Production, 1976); Elizabeth Fernea's "Return of the Veil"; The Chicago Islamic Fundamentalism Project (Islam in Egypt episode); The Mini-Dragons Series ( Malaysia Episode); Nadia Hijab's "The Family in the Arab World".
C. Course Requirements
Evaluation and grading for this course will be based on the quality of contribution to the workshop presentations and discussion as well as on the take home essay. The topic of the essay will be discussed individually with each student who will be expected to submit at least one paragraph outlining a thesis and indicating his or her approach to the subject. The essay should be approximately 15 - 1.5 space typed pages (not less than 10 and not more than 20) and each essay should be accompanied by a 1 page abstract as well as a section reviewing 2 books and 3 articles. (5-10 pages in all). The deadline for submitting the essay and its attachments is September 7th. No exceptions will be made.
Students are required to be familiar with the range of required readings before the course begins. On the basis of this familiarity, each student will be expected to submit a 5-10 minute oral presentation reporting on one book, one article, and one of the summary sets/ overviews of his or her choice. Time will be allotted at the beginning of each workshop session for this purpose after the initial assignments have been made at the first session meeting on Monday 21st. In the last session meeting on Friday 25th, students will be given an opportunity to submit / present a cogent paragraph formulating some of the lessons learned or the problems raised in his or her mind during the lectures and course readings. You could also introduce a reflection, or raise a concern that you intend to follow up in your course essay.
Nikki Keddie and Beth Baron, ed. Women in Middle Eastern History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991)
Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992)
Sherifa Zuhur, Revealing Reveiling: Islamicist Gender Discourse in Egypt (New York: SUNY Press, 1992)
Afzular Rahman, Role of Muslim Woman in Society (London: Seerah Foundation, 1986)
Hasan Turabi, Women in Islam and Muslim Society Trans. (London: Milestones Pub. 1991)
Lois Lamya al Faruqi, Women Muslim Society and Islam (Indianapolis, Indiana: American Trust Publications, 1988)
Wadud-Muhsin, A. Women in Quran: The Absence of Sex-Role Stereotyping in the Text (should be obtainable for library from UMI dissertations service)