Moyra Dale explores how women find their place within Islam, outlining four main trends: traditionalists, secular feminists, Islamists, and Islamic feminists. Dale introduces influential women who embody each trend and delves into the ongoing discourse about gender equality within Islamic systems.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Moyra Dale Lecture: Feminism and Trends Among Muslim Women


Islam, feminism, is it a contradiction in terms? How do women find their place within Islam? Nawal El Sadawi was born in 1931 in the Egyptian Delta. She managed to avoid early marriage and continue at school and eventually graduated as a doctor. She became minister or director of health under President Sadat, and she wrote a lot of books about the place of women in Egyptian society, particularly poorer women, wasn’t afraid to write about female genital mutilation.


She was eventually imprisoned by Sadat in 1981 and released after his assassination later that year. And then in 1988, political persecution and pressure from Islamicists meant that she had to leave Egypt, and she’s held lecturing positions at a number of US universities. She returned to Egypt, and in the Arab Spring, she joined the crowds in Tahrir Square. And here is a wonderful photo of her facing off in the square against a young Islamicist arguing for women being able to pray in mosques alongside the men. So how typical is she of Muslim women today?


I want to suggest we can look at maybe 4 trends, but they’re general trends rather than tightly exclusive groups. And for most of them, I’m going to introduce you to 1 or 2 women who kind of embody that group. So there’s the traditionalists, secular feminists, Islamists, Islamic feminism. The traditionalists, well, they’re the majority of Muslim women in the world today, 70% or more. Their life is shaped by the authority of the Quran, the Hadith, the traditional interpretations, and perhaps even more by cultural norms.


If they’re able to learn the texts, then maybe they can use them to challenge some of the cultural norms, and they have generally a patriarchal understanding of religious and of family life. So most of the women you meet, I think, would come in that category. The secular feminists, and I think Nawal El Sadawi is part of that group, developed in the late 19th century, and they drew on ideas of secular nationalism, Islamic modernism, human rights, democracy, rather than trying to use the religious texts to question traditional or patriarchal understandings of family. Around about the mid 20th century, they were organized a lot around laws of women’s status, marriage, divorce, issues of contraception, female genital mutilation. For them, Islamic feminism is an oxymoron.


It’s a contradiction in terms. How can there be equality, they say, in an Islamic system that’s built, that’s premised on difference between men and women and between non Muslims and Muslims? So there’s Nawal al Sadawi. There’s a number of others. Most of them tend to live in the west.


Islamism, a third group, began appearing more widely in the 19 seventies. It was linked to a sense of moral breakdown in society, the failed promises of nationalism after colonialism. In the Middle East, it was given impetus by the 1967 defeat by Israel of the Arab nations and by the 79 Iranian Revolution against the Shah. In the seventies, we saw the hijab beginning appear more widely, particularly among university students. Writers Islamist writers tend to emphasize the moral decadence of the west and the sexualized, consumerized position that Western women occupy.


And they say the Islamic understanding of family offers a solution maintaining family ties and community coherence. Let me tell you about Zaynabele Ghazali. She lived in Egypt from 1917 to 2005. And in her teens, she joined the Egyptian feminist union for a while, but then she decided that Islam gave rights to the women that no other society has granted them. Her father, who was a trained independent religious teacher and cotton merchant, used to ask her, do you want to be a Sharawi, the leader of a feminist union, or an Usayba bint Kaab who fought alongside the prophet Mohammed?


And Ghazali would say, I’m going to be an Usayba. When she was 18, she founded the Muslim Women’s Association, which is said to have had 3,000,000 members by the time the government disbanded it in 1964. Her weekly lectures are said to have drawn 1,000, and her association offered lessons for women, published a magazine, ran an orphanage, helped poor families, and demanded that the Quran govern Egypt. Zainab worked quite closely with Hassan Albana who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, and she helped organize the brotherhood when it was banned and when Albana was associated. Imprisoned for a number of years, she was tortured repeatedly and describes being sustained in that time by visions of Mohammed.


She encouraged women to become educated but to submit to their husbands to stay at home while rearing their children. Then in the late 20th century, Islamic feminism developed. It begins with the understanding that in the Quran is the possibility for equality between men and women. So it seeks a rereading of the text and a rereading, a reunderstanding in which women are involved towards a more egalitarian understanding of Islam and a more holistic understanding. Amina Wadud was born in 1952.


Her name was Mary Teasley. Her father was a Methodist minister. Her mother descended from Muslim slaves of Arab, Berber, and African ancestry. She joined Islam in 1972 and that’s when she changed her name about 1974, I think, to Aminu Waddud. And her book Quran and Women, Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective has been widely translated.


Aminu Wadud has controversially led mixed prayer for men and women, mixed salah, and also given the Friday sermon, practices which many Muslims believe are reserved for men. Asma Balas was born in Pakistan in 1950. She was one of the first women to be inducted into the forest the foreign service there, but she was dismissed by general Zia Al Haqq in Pakistan when she criticized his program for Islamicizing the country. She’s now a lecturer in the US and she also teaches a non patriarchal reading of the Quran. So for general trends, traditionalist, secular feminist, Islamicist and Islamic feminist, I wonder where the women you meet place themselves.