Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran
How can justice for women be achieved in an Islamic society? Through a series of lively interviews with clerics in the Iranian religious centre of Qom, Ziba Mir-Hosseini explores the issue of gender with Islamic jurisprudence and examines how clerics today perpetuate and modify these notions.
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This book is an anthropological review of some scholars' views on gender and sex. Mirhosseini differentiates between two categories of writings on “Women in Islam”. She puts her emphasis on those works originated inside the Muslim world. One is the dominant theme with its heavy weight of religious content written for native believers, she calls them “Shari’a-based”. These writings aim to represent Islam against the presupposed Western and Feminists’ attacks. (Seemingly these writings focus on the Quranic messages and general ethical values rather than the practiced and pragmatist Islam). The second theme of writing has a feminist angle and is written mostly by women who had Muslim backgrounds. They are often in English or French and not aimed for religious readers. Mirhosseini calls them “feminism-based” by writers such as HalehAfshar,LeilaAhmed,RiffatHassan,Azizah al-Hibri, NiluferGole, Fatima Mernissi, Nawal al-Saadawi and AminaWadud-Muhsin (p. 1999:5). The diversity of the above writers includes those who posit their feminism in Islam or those who distance from Islamic standpoints.
Mirhosseini states that although the mentioned groups had no dialogue together while they tend to essentialise Islam or Feminism the patter of the relationship is changing. In other words, there are sign of moving toward “the other” position from both sides.Mirhosseini associates such a change with the rise of political Islam in 1970s which led Muslim women to reconcile their faith with their gender awareness(page 6). She locates the emergence of Islamic Feminism in such a context was feminist readings of the shari’ahaving its linkages with political ideology and personal experience.
ZibaMirhosseini states that gender as a socio-culturally transformative issue is not rigid or absolute. Feminism in its broad sense is concerned with women and changing their situation equality wise. Lastly, she doesn’t see contradictions between Islam and Feminism and recognizes the possibility of having novel interpretations of the shari’a. Especially, since the shari’a has become a part of the modern nation state’s machinery (1999: 7).
Saba Mahmoud recognizes two aspects of feminism’s discomfort with religion. One is the perception of religion as a male dominated terrain leaves women subordinated. Another is the revitalization of political religious movements in the US, Middle East and South Asia with their harmful influences on women’s issues. (cited in Mirhosseini 1999, page 9).
She states, like Ahmed, the loyalty issue for Muslim women and the tension between their Muslim identity and the gender awareness(page 9).
Mirhosseini elaborate three dominant gender perspectives she explored between 1995 and 1997. She makes her ethnographic picture of the debates prevalent in the religious province of Qom as a center for production and reproduction of the mainstream religious debates. She recognizes Traditionalist, Neo-traditionalists and the Modernist approaches toward gender issues by focusing on some scholars of the related stance.
Mirhosseini mentions AllamehSeyed Mohammad HoseinTabataba’i and also AyattolahMortazaMotahhari as two scholars who formulated the traditionalist views. Especially Ayatollah Motahhari in influencing the official discourse of the Islamic Republic on gender (1999:24).
Mihosseini refers to the women’s position in the traditional religious contextas those created to bear and raise kids. She focuses on a scholar’s view who was the preacher in Friday Prayers, in religious Qom province. Therefore the most prominent contribution of women to society as divinely devised is through motherhood. Such a role necessitates staying at home and being provided by the husband. Studying, work and earning money are seen as free choices women may have although against natural givens for women (1999: 48). Another traditional view on women is the one grants them social and political participation while keeping the gender assumptions. Writer of the book ‘The system of women’s rights in