Monday, May 25, 2009

Books on Women & Islam

This post is a list of books on women and Islam. I got interested in the subject of gender and Islam about a year ago, so I'm still finding out about good authors and books, but these are the ones I've read so far that have really impressed me and changed the way I see Islam.

Women and Gender in Islam
Leila Ahmed

This book traces the historical roots of the debate on whether Islamic socieites are inherently oppressive to women. Ahmed looks at societies from the ancient Egyptians to modern day nation states, and analyzes how Islam has been used time and again to deny women their rights.

Qur'an and Woman
Amina Wadud

I blogged about this book before. This is the first interpretive reading of the Qur'an done by a woman (funny how the first interpretation by a woman was done in 1999). "Muslim progressives have long argued that it is not the religion but patriarchal explication and implementation of the Qur'an that have kept women oppressed. For many, the way to reform is the reexamination and reinterpretation of religious texts."

Beyond the Veil
Fatima Mernissi

Mernissi argues that the Islamic view of women as active sexual beings resulted in stricter regulation and control of women's sexuality, which Muslim theorists classically regarded as a threat to civilized society. This book blew me away when I first read it, and really got me interested in the issue of women and Islam. Mernissi is a fantastic writer and every single book of hers has impacted me.

The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam
Fatima Mernissi

I just finished reading this book and it was amazing. Mernissi analyzes several Hadith that show women in a negative light, for example the one that has the Prophet saying that entrusting ones affairs to a woman will not lead to prosperity. Mernissi shows that the men that reported these Hadith were not of sound character and also that these Hadith were rejected and challenged by Aisha. Despite this, they were included in Bukhari's collection of strong Hadith and remain unchallenged until today.

The Forgotten Queens of Islam
Fatima Mernissi

I just began reading this one. Mernissi talks about how it seems impossible that a caliph could ever be a woman. She goes on to discuss various female Islamic leaders throughout history, and how society reacted to them. She begins the book by talking about Benazir Bhutto, and the outrage by Islamic fundamentalists when she was elected, since they could not imagine a woman leading a Muslim country. This book is denser than her others but looks like it'll be really interesting.

Gendering the Middle East
Deniz Kandiyoti

This is a collection of essays by different authors on the issue of gender in the Middle East, and some are related to Islam. I like books like these because you get different perspectives and debates all in one.

The Hidden Face of Eve
Nawal el Saadawi

This book deals with the kind of oppression facing women in the Arab world. What I liked about it is that she meticulously proves that this oppression has no basis in Islam, and is completely cultural. Her views are seen as "wrong" by many Muslims because she claims that the veil and polygamy and incompatible with the essence of Islam.

Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject
Saba Mahmood

Mahmood did ethnographic fieldwork on the grassroots women's piety movement in the mosques of Cairo, and this resulted in this groundbreaking study that is quoted everywhere. The topic of the Egyptian Islamic revival is explored in detail, and she focuses specifically on how women in these movements respond to patriarchy.

Sexuality in Islam
Abdelwahab Boudhiba

Arguing that sexuality enjoys a privileged status in Islam, this book aims to integrate the sexual and the religious. Boudhiba looks at the question of male supremacy in Islam, and the strict separation of the masculine and feminine. Topics include homosexuality, concubinage, mysoginy, mysticism, and eroticism.
This book has a lot of interesting ideas and a lot of shocking information. Definitely worth reading if you are interested in the subject.

The Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam
Jennifer Heath

I haven't read this book yet but I was excited about buying it. This book is the first popular history and overview of Muslim women and their accomplishments. It portrays over 50 extraordinary Muslim women, including the women who played a crucial role in Muhammad's life, as well as scholars of the Hadith, saints and mystics, queens and warriors, rebels and concubines, and outstanding poets, musicians, and storytellers.

Reading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi

This is one of the best books I've ever read. I'm really interested in Iran and the women's movement there, and so this book was perfect. "Azar Nafisi's luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women's lives in revolutionary Iran."

That's all I can think of now. Does anyone have any good books on women and Islam? I would love to find as many as I can. Hope you enjoy :)


Anonymous said...

Sexuality in Islam is $165 on ... does that sound right? That's pretty expensive!
Thanks for posting this list, I'm adding some I don't have on my "to-read" list. ;)

Have you read any of Khaled Abou el Fadl's books? I'm reading "Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" ... highly recommend it. :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wow, $165 is a lot, maybe it's expensive because it's a pretty rare book. I bought mine for around $40 here in Cairo.
I will add that book to my list, it sounds interesting :)

Candice said...

Thanks for the list! I was thinking of it just yesterday, hoping you'd do a full post on it. :)

Lisa said...

Reading Lolita in Tehran is definitely a favorite! I love Fatima Mernissi, but was always scared a little. I had a scantily-clad Iranian Shi'i vs. Sunni Islam professor who ran with the White professors every morning :) And she loved Fatima....Love your list and you too.

Umm Omar said...

Interesting list. I'd like to read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "Politics of Piety."

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Candice: you're welcome, let me know if you like any of the books :)

Lisa: haha, well fatima is definitely out there but i love her, she always backs up her arguments so it's hard to fault her.

Umm Omar: Lolita is one of the best books I've ever read, let me know if you like it! I have the Politics of Piety but haven't read it. It's been quoted in almost every undergrad class I've taken so I'm sure it's good.

Mrs. S said...

Thanks for posting the list. My mother actually gave me Reading Lolita in Tehran, but I hadn't got around to reading it yet.

@Lisa...LOL! When I was a kid a lot of the Arab-Muslims I grew up with had Persion ex-pats for parents. Community events were a mix of ladies in niqab chatting with ladies in leather mini skirts. Right or wrong I think back on it as a great demonstration of women making choices for themselves based on personal comfort levels.

Thanks again, for posting this. I've been trolling for some new reading materials.

WhiteOrchid said...

ah should get hold of a few of these books! I gave this link to some good books on my blog .

Keep letting us know if you come across anything interesting! :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mrs. S: Lolita is amazing, let me know what you think once you've read it :)

WhiteOrchid: thanks for posting :) I will definitely post more good books soon!

WhiteOrchid said...

in response to ur que. I live in Sri Lanka :)

Jasmine said...

Very interesting stuff.Back when we were studying literature and feminism, we read similar things about the Bible in particular there was a book called "Eve was Framed" - how the story of "the fall" placed all blame on Eve.

Feminists also argued that the Virgin Mary was an impossible role model - how can one be a virgin and a mother at the same time right? I didn't realise similar works existed in the Islamic world. What I can tell you is that I have a book called "The Muslim Woman" and it talks of women so so badly that it makes you crazy with rage it's so bad.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine: Eve is such an interesting subject in both Islam and Christianity. In Islam there is no mention of Eve solely being responsible for eating the apple: it is both Adam and Eve. Also the idea that Eve was created from Adam's rib is not inherently Islamic, although many Muslims believe it.
I can imagine the things you read in "The Muslim Woman". Unfortunately horrible things do tend to happen to women a lot in Islamic countries but it's important to realize they are due to culture and tradition, not Islam itself.
Thanks for posting :)

Lisa said...

Mrs. S and Cairo, Lusaka, Amsterdam-

I just love Fatima. And I agree Mrs. S that those leather clad ex-pats types taught me a lot. In fact, Dr. Shirazi's class at Texas taught me to love A'isha even more despite attempts to quell that. Love you guys.

Solace In Islam said...

That is quite an interesting list. I have read some of the books, but most is unknown to me. I will definitely be on the look out for them though.

charlotte Gordon said...

Maybe you would like to read my new book about the importance of Hagar to the Muslim tradition. The book is The Woman Who Named God (Little, Brown). It's going to be out pretty soon. I was thrilled to find your blog. And, to see that a smart literate person is concerned with this topic. Bravo!
Charlotte Gordon (

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hey Charlotte! Thanks for posting and letting me know about your book. It sounds really interesting. It's great that books are coming out on this topic! I will definitely buy the book once it's out.

Kari said...

Thanks for putting together this reading list. I've really enjoyed the books here that I've read.

I'm helping out with a movie about Muslim women that will show on Link TV starting Sunday (September 13th) and thought you might be interested in seeing it. There's also some video of the movie on the Web site.

Thanks for all your hard work!