Muslim women scholars of Islam, the question of qualifications, and romanticized images of the “Islamic tradition”

The following was inspired by the #NoAllMalePanels conversation that took place on Twitter. Speaking of which, if you’re a Muslim man and agree that there should be no more all-male panels, your support is useless without your signature on the pledge. Sign here. But understand that the #NoAllMalePanels wasn’t limited to acknowledging the authority of women scholars of Islam: it was about acknowledging and appreciating women’s knowledge in all fields. Many people made the discussion about academics versus traditionalist scholars, but that was just one part of the campaign.

One of the major and more recurring points in the discussion, coming from the opponents of the conversation, was that “This isn’t about gender! Stop making this about gender! No one ever / we don’t invite women to talk about Islam because there aren’t any qualified women to speak on Islam. The women you’re talking about who you claim are ‘scholars of Islam’ are actually not scholars. They are academics! Know the difference, okay, you feminists?” To deny that gender has anything to do with this is to deny that there are serious structural obstacles to women’s religious authority (I’ll talk about this below), but for now, let’s acknowledge that we rarely/never hear anyone questioning the men’s qualifications. We simply assume they must be scholars if they have a beard of an acceptable length, wear a head-gear of some sort, preferably wear Arab clothing. When it comes to the qualification of the men “scholars,” we remember to focus on their knowledge, not the details of where/how/by whom they were educated about Islam. Zakir Naik anyone? Or some 95% of the other men “scholars” of our time.  It helps them immensely that they merely say what the community wants to hear, that they only satisfy the community’s patriarchal expectations of what Islam is like. But when it comes to a woman who speaks about Islam, her knowledge becomes completely irrelevant, and we have a whole bunch of other important questions to ask. Like is her hair covered, did she study at a secular institution, is she a feminist, etc. You can read more about this problem here. And here’s something on the gendering of knowledge and authority (so when you say something like, “no, no, she’s just not knowledgeable. It’s not about her gender at all. Stop making this about women, you feminists!” maybe you can look a little more closely and see that gender is actually a huge factor in the denial and dismissal of women’s religious/interpretive authority in our communities). Also, “not enough qualified women scholars of Islam” my foot. Check out this positively overwhelming list of scholarship on Islam, most of which is by Muslim women – and it’s not even comprehensive! And, while I’m at it with this whole self-promotion thing, I might as well also share a link to something I wrote once on female authority, the role of justice and ethics in Islamic feminist hermeneutics, and my response to the idea that “Muslim women/feminists would be able to exercise some authority in the Muslim community if only they’d just …” (insert appropriate patriarchal statement).

Okay, so.

1. The other day, a dude on Twitter who insists he’s a “scholar of Islam” was arguing with me over the supposed invalidity of Amina Wadud’s status as a scholar. He insisted that one must study at a traditional religious (Islamic) seminary in order to be a scholar, and I naturally vehemently disagreed but reminded him that Wadud has actually studied at Al-Azhar, which is in fact considered a perfectly legitimate institution for traditional Islamic Studies. He goes, “hm. Well, al-Azhar is losing its credibility. Nowadays they’ll give anyone an ijaza [diploma/certificate]!”

Why do I even bother talking to these people? They’ll say anything to invalidate a woman’s right to speak on Islam authoritatively so long as what she’s saying isn’t within the patriarchal tradition they want maintained. If the women were trained at the exact same institution as the traditionalist (patriarchal tradition-supporting) men scholars of Islam, for the exact same amount of time, the reason of dismissal shifts to: “Well, if she had sincere intentions, she wouldn’t be maligning Islam with books like Qur’an and Woman/Gender Jihad!” Nothing knows our intentions well like patriarchy does.

But, for those interested in this discussion–and that should be every Muslim–Juliane Hammer’s American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More Than a Prayer is an important book to read. She does a brilliant job articulating this tension between the different groups of authority, this question of authenticity, the relationship between knowledge and authority. One of many important points she makes really sticks out to me – though, needless to say, I highly recommend the whole book:

In several Muslim-majority countries (Turkey, Morocco), the state has initiated training projects for Muslim women preachers and in some cases even legal scholars and hsa developed programs for their placement and employment in the service of state-defined religious interpretations and doctrines. Here the celebration of women’s advancement becomes ironic in that women preachers usually receive very little training (contrary to the decade or more that traditional education required), which qualifies them only to disseminate existing interpretations and a codified (or simplified) system of regulations. (Page 115 – the whole of chapter 5, “Authority, Tradition, and Community” is of profound importance to this discussion on authority and authenticity and all.)

We can get trained – but only in institutions that will ensure that we maintain the patriarchal attitudes that inhibit any sort of progress towards gender egalitarianism in the first place.

This demand that women be trained in traditional institutions is also ironic: “The irony in the critiques of the purported lack of qualifications and traditional Islamic training of Muslim women scholars lies in the fact that the institutions of higher Islamic learning and their products, the ‘ulama, have undergone transformations and a decrease in significance over the past two centuries, resulting in the challenge to traditional religious authority” (page 115).

I think we should just agree that the only people who have any authority to speak on Islam are the internet celebrity sheikhs. Everyone else can just keep trying but will never be considered authoritative and knowledgeable enough to speak on Islam.

2. Many people, especially the anti-feminist folks, tell us that the “reason” Muslim women (academics mostly) don’t get to speak on Islam, don’t have authority to speak on Islam, is that they are not trained classically. First, let’s establish that there are some sorely misleading assumptions about what the academic study of Islam is like. My personal issues/experiences with it aside, I value it for several reasons. Few people seem to know that we actually get  trained to read original material (in (Classical) Arabic). Yes, the commentaries, too (people actually write books on the Qur’an commentaries, folks! And those books aren’t coming from people trained in traditional seminaries).

Those of us pursuing a PhD in Islamic studies are required, at least in the US, to master Arabic (classical, in most (all?) cases) and classical Islamic studies otherwise, in addition to at least one other Islamic language (language spoken by a Muslim population, like Persian, Turkish) to taking a whole bunch of classes in other fields (religion, gender, anthropology, linguistics, whatever is most relevant to what we wanna be experts in). And people dare to claim that we don’t have the credentials to speak on Islam? I should NOT have to go to Saudi Arabia to study Islam! I should NOT have to study Islam in Pakistan or any other Muslim country in order to be considered a scholar of Islam. In fact, students of Islamic studies in Pakistan (and likely in other non-Arabic speaking Muslim countries) are not even required to study Arabic! But they get more authority than those of us studying in the west do because, what, they don’t challenge the patriarchal (not Qur’anic, by the way) guideline that a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man? This is just an example – based on intellectually stifling talks that the department chair of an Islamic Studies program from a Pakistani university gave at my university last year. (It should be obvious by now that I think critical engagements with tradition, religion, life, etc. should be required of all humans claiming to be scholars.)

If our idea of training is that it has to repeat exactly what the earlier (male) scholars said, we don’t get scholarship at all–heck, we don’t get education, period. What’s the point of studying Islam, of studying anything at all, if the purpose is to merely repeat what others have said, to come to the same conclusions as theirs? More importantly, actually, this is not even what Islamic studies was historically like, and Muslim scholars historically rarely ever agreed with each other – not even on the “essential” things, because there’s actually no agreement on what the essential things are, either. (Heartbreaking, potentially faith-shattering, I know.)

Let me quote from two scholars (of Islam) here – Karen Bauer and Rumee Ahmed:

a) Karen Bauer on stratigraphy – in her book Gender Hierarchy in the Qur’ān: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses on Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) and how the exegetes were able to get away with disagreeing with each other and still play authoritative roles (any typos/misspellings are mine and not the author’s):

The earliest exegetical authorities are in some ways akin to the founders of legal schools, in that almost all subsequent works refer, obliquely or overtly, to their views. These works were written in a way that seemed simply to record and preserve the  views of the earliest authorities and the Prophet. Yet, they not only preserved but also modified and even erased past interpretations. The term stratigraphy … refers to the layering of meaning and interpretation: one story or interpretation can be retold in many different ways, with layers of detail added in subsequent generations. Used in this sense, the term stratigraphy can describe the continual accretion of meanings in the genre of tafsir. Through time, interpretations built up in layers, and the very process of building up could also impose new meanings on the text and on the earlier interpretations…. Rather than acknowledging that the views of the earlier authorities were incompatible, [Ibn ‘Arabi] reinterpreted disagreement so that it became agreement, thus imposing new meanings on the earlier authorities’ words. (Page 12)

She continues: “When writing a work of tafsir, authors would selectively pick and choose from previous works, usually without crediting the original author. But we know very little about the practical mechanisms that enabled such picking, choosing, and selective accretion of tradition…” (page 13).

Point being, the mufassireen (the men who interpreted the Qur’an for us) were actually constantly picking and choosing what to keep from previous tafsir works.

But what happens when women, especially contemporary Muslim women, enter the conversation? Women who, whether they identify as feminist or not, challenge the patriarchy that is so embedded in Islamic scholarship (as in all religious scholarship/literature from the past)? We’re not fools, people; we’re not naive. We know that Islamic history, Islamic scholarship is not stagnant. We have access to the material you use against us to tell us our scholarship is not “real scholarship” … as was said by a “real” scholar of our time, the Abu Eesa (who’s Pashtun, by the way. Imagine how how I felt when I found out a Pashtun man lived up to the stereotypical image of the men of my ethnicity!):

One can only wonder, what the heck does an “actual female scholar” look like? Who are these “actual female scholars” he’s talking about? Who are these “modern women activists” he’s talking about? Clearly, the “actual female scholars” must be those who support his misogynistic jokes and attacks on Muslim women. As long as he can get one woman on his side, a woman who has internalized misogyny and follows him, he can say, “Whatevz. I’ve got this real woman on my side; I don’t need the rest of y’all fake women to agree with me.” (For more, see this.)

A look at his Twitter shows that this man lacks all sense of adab (decency, manners, proper Islamic etiquette for interacting with others), and his followers/worshipers don’t even acknowledge that. Yet, when a woman speaks her mind and attacks misogyny, or the misogynistic “jokes” of a misogynist, in a way that she finds is most appropriate, everyone goes, “Ugh, the feminists. They have no adab!”#DIEpatriarchyDIE

But I digress. Naturally.

Back to the misleading claim that Muslim scholars of the past must have agreed with each other.

b) In his book Narratives of Islamic Legal Theory, Rumee Ahmed shares a fascinating account of this question of authority and scholars’ disagreement (any typos/misspellings are mine and not the author’s):

While conducting research on Zaydi legal theorists in Sana’a, Yemen, I fell in with local scholars of shafi’i jurisprudence. Together we studied several Shafi’i legal theorists, and especially the legal theories of the eminent jurists Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) and Abu Is’haq al-Shirazi (d. 1083). I was struck by the Yemeni scholars’ incredulous response to any suggestion that these two giants of Shafi’i jurisprudence held any significantly different opinions on legal theory. They took great pains to explain that any differences were in appearance only, and that the two were actually in harmony on every matter, as were all Shafi’is. Their insistence on this point kept the study at a superficial level, and I figured that they were reluctant to take sides when jurists whom they held in such high esteem disagreed. So I went to a local bookshop to find legal theory works of Hanafi jurists whose differing theories we could discuss without the need to homogenize. I settled upon the works of two renowned Hanafi jurists: the Taqwa al-Adilla of Abu Zayd ‘Ubayd Allah b. ‘Umar al-Dabusi (d. 1039) and the Muharrar fi Usul al-Fiqh of Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abi Sahl al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090). A cursory glance at the two texts suggested that they were in consonance on most key issues, but if there were significant differences then perhaps they could be teased out through careful study and discussion. O returned to the scholars with renewed hope.

Within the first few days of discussing Dabusi’s Taqwa al-Adilla, one scholar in particularly had many objections. He asked if I was sure that Dabusi was an actual Hanafi jurist, since his explanations for the positions he held, though couched in familiar language and promoting accepted positions, were unfamiliar and, according to the Yemeni scholar, unbecoming a Hanafi. I assured him that Dabusi was one of the leading Hanafi jurists of his time and among the most celebrated in the medieval period, and so we agreed to continue discussing his theory. The next day, after having read more of Dabusi’s approach to legal theory, the scholar asked if I had not mistaken this Dabusi with some other Dabusi, who was perhaps a real Hanafi scholar. He explained that this was an understandable mistake….I eventually persuaded him that this was indeed the correct Dabusi, leaving aside for the moment Ibn Arabi’s membership in the believing community.

The following day, in the middle of the discussion, the scholar closed his books, stood up, and refused to continue discussing Dabusi. He protested that this Dabusi character was clearly trying to undermine Islam with deviant opinions and that he was obviously out of line with the Hanafi tradition, which the scholar claimed to know well. In a bid to blacklist Dabusi from being discussed in the mosques of Sana’a, he conferred with other scholars from his mosque and neighboring mosques, describing the ideas that Dabusi had put forth in Taqwa al-Adilla. He reported back that all of them agreed that Dabusi was a dangerous threat to Islam in general and of true Hanafism in particular, no doubt an agent provocateur working for the enemies of Islam. He was more than happy, however, to move the discussion to the works of Sarakhsi, whom he praised as a true scholar and Hanafi. (Pages 10-11)

We have constructed a certain image of Islam, of the Muslim past, of Muslim scholars, and that image is overly romantic. And completely unreal and unrealistic. What happens when we learn that our romanticized image is actually not reflective of the reality? Well, we tend to do what happened in the above anecdote: accuse people of maligning Islam, of serving Islam’s enemies, of not being Muslim. Our kind of Muslim.

3. There are legitimate reasons a lot of Muslim women aren’t studying Islam traditionally in a Muslim country in a seminary. We shouldn’t be saying, “You think she’s a scholar? Oh yeah? What are her qualifications?” We should be asking “Why aren’t more Muslim women scholars choosing to take the madrasah route? Why’s the madrasah so much more appealing to men than to women?” Because the madrasah system is too patriarchal to begin with; the madrasah system of “qualifications” is intrinsically designed to prevent women from exercising authority. That’s to say, something’s wrong with our expectations and demands for qualifications, with the system itself, not with the women.

Let me quote/summarize one of Kecia Ali’s points on this problem here: She argues that male authority has been successfully continued because of the Islamic tradition’s tendency to privilege textual Islam as not only more authentic than lived Islam but actually the only authentic source (Sexual Ethics & Islam: Feminist Reflections on the Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence, p. 155). This specific discussion is about sex and marriage, but it’s applicable to any and all topics:

Although there are no restrictions on female participation in scholarly endeavors in theory – and a number of exceptional women, past and present, have been recognized as religious authorities, there are significant practical obstacles to female education in madrasa-settings. Likewise, there are social considerations restricting the ascription of religious authority to women. If mastery of the classical tradition is required in order to be considered credible, women are likely to be marginalized, if not entirely excluded, from interpretive reforms. And it matters deeply that women, whose concerns and perspectives differ from men’s, be among those engaging in renewed ethical thought on topics including marriage and sex. (Also page 155 of Sexual Ethics)

The point about textual versus lived Islam is critical to the discussion of women’s authority. You can read more about it in Leila Ahmed’s A Border Passage: From Cairo to America–A Woman’s Journey (where she discusses “two quite different Islams, an Islam that is in some sense a women’s Islam and an official, textual Islam, a ‘men’s’ Islam” – page 123 – an insightful comparison of her Islamic knowledge and training as a child/girl and Zeinab al-Ghazali’s begins on page 122. Ahmed makes some thoughtful conclusions that are relevant to this discussion of men’s and women’s Islam and of authority).

Juliane Hammer (American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More Than a Prayer) again, who writes (and all typos and errors are mine, not the author’s):

The women scholars, challenged and questioned in different venues, are keenly aware of these challenges, which often take the form of personal attacks, and tend to explain their need to engage in exegesis in two ways: as a personal voyage of faith and their direct challenge to the classical Islamic interpretive tradition and the educational structures associated with it. As Muslim women they have no choice but to challenge the traditional system of knowledge transmission and preservation, for there has historically been little space for them within such a system. And while women could historically acquire Islamic knowledge, their ability to build interpretive communities was hampered by their social and legal status in Muslim societies. (Page 116)

Also, there’s no agreement on what makes a person a scholar. Who decides which institutions we should be trained in in order to be an authority on Islam? (Remember what that Twitter scholar said earlier? That al-Azhar isn’t even legit anymore? Yeah.)  Who decides what valid training in Islamic studies looks like? Who decides which kinds of Islam we should be supporting, embodying, and imparting to others? Who decides which former scholars are legit and which ones not?

Besides, which of the “real” Islamic institutions even allow female students? How many of them have female teachers? What kinds of women will they permit in their institutions? (Just FYI, I once tried to set foot in al-Qarawiyyeen, a university in Fez, Morocco, founded by a Muslim woman–Fatima al-Fihri–in the 9th century, and the men forbade me, saying, “men only!” This was a tragic experience because I was so excited to be in Morocco because I wanted to visit al-Qarawiyyeen desperately. I’m sure I would’ve been able to had I reached out to the “right” people – but why? Why should I have to know the right people to enter a university that, of all things, was even founded by a woman?!) And then can you imagine a woman like me in a male-/patriarchy-dominated institution? I have a hard time in a secular environment from time to time keeping my mouth shut, and I cannot imagine what it must be like to be myself in a religious, patriarchally traditional environment where to disagree with (men) scholars is to disagree with God.

Imagine my friends’ reaction when I tell them that after graduation, inshaAllah, I will be going abroad to an Arab country to study at a traditional Islamic institution. Be trained in a secular academic setting and in a religious one; let’s see what patriarchy says then. (And I bet no Muslim man ever has to worry about having to do this in order to be able to say, “I do have credentials: I studied at Muslim Institution X.” I can’t even imaging being at Al-Maghrib, which is in the West, let alone in an Arabic-speaking country where I’ve been before and where I have faced serious problems during my 2-month stays (in three such countries), let alone if I were to go for longer.

I can’t figure out where this anecdote (from Ayesha Chaudhry) goes, but it’s deeply relevant to this discussion, so I’m going to share it here. In Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, she writes (and all typos/misspellings are mine, not the author’s):

When I first encountered [verse 4:34], while reading a translation of the Qur’an in middle school, I was both unsettled and defensive…. What did it mean that men were in authority over women? … [fast-forwad to many years later] Armed with university-honed analytic skills, I began to ask these questions of various religious leaders…. Unfortunately, the scholars I spoke to were stuck in a bind; on the one hand, they felt it was necessary to justify and defend the violent wording of Q. 4:34, and on the other hand, they tried to restrict the violence permitted by it…. Invariably, accompanying these defensive, violent interpretations of Q. 4:34 were lengthy lectures about the wisdom of God and the “complexity of the Islamic tradition.” These were both dismissive moves. The “wisdom of God” talk was intended to cast doubt on my value system and to encourage me to formulate a value system based on a more literal reading of the divine text. If I was troubled by a verse, then the problem was on my end, not with the text. The “complexity of the Islamic tradition” talk was intended to breed humility and and faith: humility in the face of the thousand-plus years of Muslim scholarship on related issues, and the faith that the eminent Muslim scholars of the past had provided satisfactory, authoritative answers–if only one read their works. “All the questions that you are raising have already been answered by scholars in the Islamic tradition. These scholars were well-educated in the Islamic sciences, they were brilliant, had photographic and encyclopedic memories; they were qualified to ask and answer these questions. If you want to ask such questions, you must first study the illustrious Islamic tradition, which has all the answers.” I heard various versions of this response from different scholars. It was and continuous to be used to stifle critical inquiry and to delegitimize new positions, perspectives, and criticisms that seek to make Islam relevant to contemporary concerns. But what is the “Islamic tradition,” I wondered, and what does it say about Q. 4:34? For all the talk of the “Islamic tradition,” it is not easily defined…. The scholars I spoke with about Q. 4:34 called upon the authority of the “Islamic tradition,” speaking about it as a vague and disembodied concept…. The “Islamic tradition” is invoked as as the solution to all modern problems, even if the content of those solutions is never clear. (Different excerpts from Pages 2-7. I very highly recommend reading the whole book.)

I share this to note that women are often told “if only you’d study the tradition, you’ll understand” almost as though to silence us, to suppress our questions and concerns and discomforts with violent, oppressive interpretations of the Qur’an. It’s as though we’re not expected to study this tradition, and so it’s an empty reaction to our perfectly valid questions. Or, as Chaudhry says it, this appeal to the “Islamic tradition” “was and continuous to be used to stifle critical inquiry and to delegitimize new positions, perspectives, and criticisms that seek to make Islam relevant to contemporary concerns.”

4. Today, in order to be considered a scholar, one should be required to study contemporary & modern texts on Islam (and not be limited to pre-modern ones)–including, yes, the feminist scholarship. Just like justice in the Qurana scholar shouldn’t and doesn’t have to agree with what the (often disturbingly misogynistic) things scholars of the past said (and their worshipers today repeat but in sugarcoated, more “modern,” “scientific” ways), no one has to agree with what’s being said today by feminist scholars. But especially if I’m required to sit through disturbing material about women in classical/medieval texts because that’s a part of the legacy our scholars left us and because that’s what I have to read and am expected to believe and accept as more authentic than any egalitarian interpretations of God’s original Word, then the traditionalists should be required to read what’s being said by women today about that past material. Is that not the least we can demand of our “scholars” today?

Otherwise, that training should be considered incomplete and dishonest. And completely unfair and untrue to the spirit of Islam. Any study of Islam should be as comprehensive as possible, as honest as possible. At the very least, the study of contemporary feminist scholarship by traditionalists should be so that the traditionalists don’t have to rely on assumptions when talking about feminist scholarship. When I mention a decade-old, groundbreaking book by a woman academic scholar of Islam, the traditionalist’s response shouldn’t be, “I will check it out” or “who’s she? Where did she study?”; it should be, “yes, I’ve read it” – and “I disagree with her” if that’s relevant to the conversation.  Someone once told me that one traditionalist scholar, when teaching his students about the works of one of the most important Muslim woman academic Islamic scholar of our time, introduced her work as “intellectual masturbation.” I don’t even know what the term means, but it’s very telling.

It seems so unethical to me that someone can declare himself a scholar of Islam and not know about some of the most important women scholars (and their scholarship) of our time. How have we managed to let them get away with such intellectual dishonesty for so long?


26 thoughts on “Muslim women scholars of Islam, the question of qualifications, and romanticized images of the “Islamic tradition”

  1. Change will not happen quickly. A famous scientist once said that acceptance of new theories occurred when the people who believe the old die off and the young learn the new. It’s the same in any dicipline. Reach out to the young and teach them. Gradually they will grow and teach others. The best work will survive and other work will vanish. We need to view generationally


    • Thank you for your comment, Norma!
      That works, I suspect, in situations where the question of gender/sexual justice is not at the forefront of the conversation. Everything except women’s rights/authority has more room for progression. It also works only when collective communities aren’t so adamant about passing down patriarchy (that they understand as divine) to the next generations so passionately.

      Na, change isn’t gonna happen quickly – but women have been working for change for centuries now, and unfortunately, we’re still struggling (in all religious communities) with recognizing women’s authority.


  2. You really need to CALM down and not sound like a neurotic female, that most men will just ignore from the word go. I think you totally discredit your worth and valuable ideas by your inability to tone down the passion. Death to patriarchy and misogyny is not going to come, by “force” of your will/ any person’s will. Changing of hearts and minds needs time and perseverance. I’m a woman and I share your sentiments, but the manner of the article, puts me off, and no man will take this seriously.


    • Sighs @ “calm down” – that’s s very patriarchal comment to make to a woman. Nonetheless, thank you for reading – but I prefer my way of talking about this and will have to disagree with yours. I don’t believe in seeking patriarchy’s permission to fight patriarchy. That defeats the purpose, and there are already women doing it that way (and it doesn’t work). We need to embrace diverse approaches to fighting patriarchy.

      And telling me/a woman to calm down is a sure way to not get her attention. I’ve been doing it this way for over a decade now, and it’s been going pretty well! And it’s been getting attention. It’s always very telling when especially a woman tells a fellow woman to “calm down” so that patriarchy will pay attention because patriarchy doesn’t listen to non-calm, passionate women. That’s heartbreaking.

      Also, the men you speak of who don’t pay attention to women who are not “calm” don’t pay attention not because we’re not “calm” – it’s because they can’t handle being challenged by women. (It’s not like they’re ever calm themselves, though. Ever heard them argue with each other? Give a sermon? Talk at all? Those guys scream, yell over each other, talk with so much passion. But when a woman speaks with passion, oh no – she needs to calm down. #internalizedpatriarchy)


    • I am a woman, and I’ve been on this road a very long time. It’s not a patriarchal comment- it is you who has attributed the comment to a “patriarchal’ one, because you’ve heard it enough times from men. Now hear it from a woman. Intense passion, clouds judgement and reason temporarily – both ecstasy and anger are polar opposites. Somewhere in the middle lies sakinah and wisdom.


    • I respectfully disagree. Thank you for reading.
      P.S. I hope you hear yourself. Men won’t listen unless something is “objective” and lacks passion? Really? Who ARE these men? Patriarchy is anything but objective and passion-less (it’s only that it privileges and secures men’s emotions, insecurities, feelings, passions etc.). How conveniently we let men get away with promoting their biases and object when a woman so much as appears passionate about killing patriarchy! We’ve got a huge problem when women come to tell us that anything won’t be heard by men unless it’s a certain way. Again, those men aren’t not gonna listen becuz I’m passionate – they don’t listen because a woman is challenging their authority.


    • A bit of me is half curious what exactly it means to be objective to people who think that women need to calm down if they’re displaying any sense of passion in anything they say – because the most recent understanding of “objective” in the humanities is the recognition of as many different/diverse viewpoints as are known.

      Another part of me is half wondering what is not “calm” about what I’ve said above. If it’s the hashtags (#deathtopatriarchy #diepatriarchydie), do you honestly sincerely certainly believe that a man is going to overlook the point and think “NOPE! I’m not taking ANY of this seriously because this woman here is not objective”? What does that say about the assumptions we have about men and what they like/don’t like, how they approach something? If anything, men like that are the most insecure, least objective individuals ever. And patriarchy gives them the license to get away with that because we don’t consider that as “emotional” (because few think of men’s insecurities as anything based in emotion or passion)…. Again, it is so telling, so remarkably telling that women will take patriarchal things like “calm down” and tell other women “don’t do this because the better way to get a man to listen to you is …” (and another assumption here being that I even want those men to listen to me in the first place). There are millions of women doing it the “calm” way and these men still don’t listen. There are millions of books written by “objective” scholars who are forced to let go of their passion–because a passionate woman is too scary for patriarchy to manage–when writing about subjects like these, but these men STILL don’t read that work. Why, then, would they read a mere blog post where a girl is telling them that, contrary to their lies, they are anything but objective and “Islamic”?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Salaams
    I think a big part of the problem is that, women dont respect and accept the authority of female scholars. So there is no support or encouragement to invite and or seek out female scholars. so most of time when we do have female scholars their subject is relegated to those topics that only impact women and maybe children.
    There are plenty of qualified ladies out there and if they are not able to get speaking gigs in masajids, it is time to seek greener pastures and arrange for talks in public libraries, and schools and colleges. if there are ladies who want to speak in the baltimore metro area let me know and we can start it here in my backyard


    • Thank you, Sadida, for your insight!
      Women’s support for other women goes a long way, and nothing is more powerful–and a more serious threat to patriarchy–than that. Solidarity is a beautiful thing when done right. Unfortunately, internalized misogyny is a real thing, too, and many of us don’t realize when what we say or do is harmful not just to an individual woman but to all women because of patriarchy’s impact on us.

      A lot of the female Islam scholars are already established faculty at universities and get invited by other universities to give talks to students and communities (and are paid for their services, for the most part, as I understand). The Muslim community bears some unfortunate assumptions about what it means to be a Muslim, what constitutes piety and spirituality, what a “good Muslim woman” looks and behaves like, and even what “the community” likes to hear, and because a lot of these female academic scholars of Islam don’t embody these assumptions, they are excluded and ultimately rejected as authoritative voices on Islam. The community is never going to change if we don’t give it a chance to. We have to have faith in ourselves to change for the better, we have to have faith in our women scholars and teachers, we have to have faith in ourselves as an ummah (if there’s such a thing as an ummah at all) – and we have to have faith in our ability to accept positive changes. Change isn’t going to happen if we don’t even give it a chance to.


  4. I loved your article! Perhaps what we need is to bring together some of our female scholars and establish our own school for Muslim women seeking knowledge. Then go out and make a difference in society thereby demonstrating its not just talk or theory, but (as we women tend to have more than men) practicality.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for posting. I recommend Women’s Ways of Knowing.. I use it to HELP formulate the idea that knowledge is produced by a COMBINATION of things: no just reason, but intuition, experience and heartfelt angst.. How many great medical inventions came because someone wanted to save another member of their family from suffering without a cure? W really do need to INTEGRATE all aspects of our BE-ing into the process of UNDERSTANDING (i.e producing knowledge) about what is our task here on earth.

    If that reply means the ONLY thing this movement is about is seeking permission from the Oppressor to protest our Oppression, perhaps she has MISSED what is happening in the world today. A categorical UNWINDING the binds of “control” and an unleashing of the democratization of knowledge (in Islam, amongst Muslims) and elsewhere.

    In the case of Islamic knowledge the task to KNOW our Lord can no longer be limited by those who comprise half the ummah. We ALL must contribute. The task is just too big and there is so much at stake. Waiting for some one to grant legitimacy will no longer suffice. We are the People and the Horizon is just in front of us. welcome


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  7. “Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he! No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains! Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame! His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood – As fuel! A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!”

    I think passion, even intense passion, is very much part of being Muslim and having faith in Islam. When I read the Quran, I read a lot of passion. The surah cited is the first I remember reading when I was 8 years old and it terrified me because I read intense passion, a passion I thought had doomed ‘Abu Lahab’ for good. Then years later I learned that Abu Lahab and Abu Jahal weren’t these men’s real names; these were names given to them in passion. As a young child I read verses that warned how disbelievers are turned into pigs and monkeys, how no one can guide the rebellious ‘blind and deaf’, how those who don’t worship Allah alone are cast aside by Him. But I also read verses that counsel without intensity. There are verses that tell you to turn and walk away. Many verses promise good when one is good and patient. There is balance.

    Similarly, there are events that provoke passion from us too. I think your passion has been provoked, Orbala and I don’t think I can blame you. I wish people were just as quick to judge men as well in the interest of balance. When a man provokes a woman/women he’s not called neurotic or passionate or one lacking in wisdom. But when a woman reacts in the same tone or manner, she is quickly shushed and told that she doesn’t have adab. You reap what you sow, men. It’s simple.


    • Metis! ❤ Thank you for your comment!
      See, I don't even think one can talk about a faith passion-lessly. I don't understand people who do (unless the faith they speak on is not theirs).
      But like you said, men do it too – and no one responds to them the way they do to women. I remember Yasir Qadhi's talk at the CAIR banquet last year in San Diego, and he was yelling, screaming, shouting – and the response from the audience? A HUGE applause! And I looked at Nahida and went, "dafuq?" If this were a woman, the audience would be like, "Booo – stop being so emotional!"

      For me, the worst part about being told, as a woman, to stop be so passionate is that, particularly in the comment under this post by a fellow Muslim woman, we're also being told "because men won't listen to you." That's total BS. What, because men are so objective, so emotion-less, so passion-less that they listen only to words that come not from a place of deep commitment to something but from "objectivity"? I hate this connection with masculine and men; it's totally false. Besides, screw those men who won't listen to me when I talk this passionately about justice. I trust *no one* who is not this passionate about the work they do, especially if their work is about justice/ethics.

      I'm again reminded of Abu Eesa's very illogical comments and responses to women all the time. No one ever sees his comments as unjustified and just too passionately pro-patriarchy, but when a woman says anything against patriarchy (because patriarchy's dominance and power in our lives is so real it physically kills too many of us), she needs to "calm down." I am going to start telling Abu Eesa to calm down from now. Oooh, wait, lemme do that right now actually.

      Liked by 1 person

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  10. This is the first time Ive read an entire scholarly blog post and all the comments in a long time!! May Allah grant you a long life and protection from the haters to continue this much-needed work! Amin!

    My two cents is that as big a hindrance to Muslimahs scholarship as patriarchy is our caring responsibilities. Speaking as a mother of three with a feverish baby who won’t let her do ANYTHING but surf the net. It’s no coincidence that Ayesha r.a. had no kids! If Muslim men put into the practice the rulings on providing for home help, even wet nurses (mothers in Makkah would send their newborns to be fed by a Bedouin woman for two years, for crying out loud), we might stand a chance. There’s even considerations in fiqh regarding the amount of money given as a dowry depending on how intelligent a bride is, which sounds incredibly reductive, but what it effectively means is that if she’s bright, she will need to study, so budget for it, husbands. But for those of us who do not happen to live in small villages where everyone looks after everyone’s kids or in compounds of extended families where ditto, we get next to nothing in terms of state help and where expected to work for a living – how e hell are we supposed to continue our studies? I totally back the suggestion made by the sister above about starting a women’s academic facility, with madrasah and PhD departments. If men don’t see it as authoritative enough, they can stuff themselves – in time there will be enough educated Muslimahs that their cr*ppy attitudes won’t look cool when they’re looking for a wife! Godspeed the age of the wise women, Amin.


    • Agreed! There are so many different sorts of obstacles to women’s education and attainment of scholarly statuses, and most of those obstacles can be easily overcome if we were not treated as incapable of doing anything else just because we (i.e., some of us) have the physical ability to give birth.

      Aameen to your duas!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. May Allah bless you and give you strengh enough to keep on! Sis, no matter where …for all muslims communities , Brazil or Argentina… if we rise this kind of subject probably we will listen: Don’t bring Western feminism to contaminate our tradition. This is innovation and innovation is haraam. :/ It would be comical it wouldn be so sad.


  12. Jaanaana,
    Just now I took a look again in this article and I decided to read the comments. Humm… What a disappointment I’d seen!
    So.. you need “to calm down”…(???) Thats ridiculous!!
    So no matter the content of what you are exposing.. to be acceptable and reasonable you need to change your personal way of speaking, your mood, your personal way of exposing your ideas because it looks ” a little bit emotional” and no man will take serious? it would be acceptable to men? Han? I’m here just wondering.
    Now they are seeking another way to invalidate the women’s thinking and knowledge: We are very emotional by nature and what we think is the result of our emotions.. Ohhhh!!! Ohhh!!! What clever!
    Obviously if a matter touchs ourselves… we will express this in a lot of means.
    Passion? Can we start a brief discussion about philosophically what exactly means passion?
    Humm.. What I’ve learned in philosophy studies is enthusiasm briefly. Everyone needs to have “passion”.. the passion is “the propellant ingredient” to move on….what motivate to boosts the life.. keep the life. The soul or spirit.
    Expressing “passion” is something natural.
    So then, men cannot take seriously? Oh why not? Aren’t a human beings to have passion as well or the right to expose “passion” is restricted only to them?
    This post touchs about famale matters… expose facts… and the someone put aside every fact just because “she is expressing passion”??? Is it a F*&¨%king joke????
    Now Im gonna express my PASSION as well.. because I am a human being I have emotions like everyone and It is not a reason for “shut my mouth” ( or stop my brain) . Yes!! Do not I have any right to express “passion/ feeling/emotions”?
    Yes! That comment really made me upset. And I have no shame to expose that. Because it is not sin. It is not wrong. No. I dont have any.”nerves illnes” .

    But for you who commented about “passion”…
    I am here showing up my PASSION because It is the proof that I am ALIVE!


    • Salaam, Adriana 🙂
      Sorry for the late response!
      Yes, absolutely agreed. It’s ridiculous that we’re told to “calm down” when we want to and do share a critical opinion about our communities, practices, history, etc. in public. As I’ve said in other comments here, I cannot imagine a strong practice of religion without passion, so, YES, I’m passionate about what I practice, what I do, what I believe, and what I also happen to study.
      God guide us all, aameen.


  13. Janana,
    Another point I forgot to mention…
    For those who belongs to a patriarchal people, especially women from tribal cultures… knows very well what is the cost of “to calm down”. Some times, we pay for it with our own lives. To calm down generally means Dont say anything even when our own family is denying our own basic rights guaranteed religiously. Rise up any discussion or critical thinking about traditions or practice people consider it like making disturbing “in family”.
    The culture of avoiding shameful to the family or tribe is generally towrds to women in first place.
    What is to be the “ideal women” in our patriarchal culture?
    Never complaining nothing.. never expose suffering.. and endure each and every act even hurting ourselves.
    Most cases, these women are dying because of number of diases caused by hassles and
    humiliations. Enduring everything silent.. avoiding seek medical help fearing to be considered disqualified for a good marriage or if already married disqualified as a “good/ideal wife”.

    Briefly, along centuries we are always “calm down”… and say to us calm down knowing the realities of this kind of culture It’s something that borders on badns or coldness with the suffering of another human being.
    My own mother died! For all her life she kept silence of her problems, endured everything bullshit fearing to bring shamefull to the family or people think negative about her as wife and mother.
    Now she is died… Now she got “calm down’…

    I’m so sorry, Jananna… but I had to expose it .


  14. Hey Orbala! You reminded me about something after writing about female scholars. Have you heard of Um al Darda? Apparently she was an early jurist and sahabiyyah. She issued a fatwa stating that women can sit in the same positions as men while praying and go through the same motions while some jurists of her time (who not surprisingly had their opinions more recognized by later jurists) stated that women should be more compact, muted and “modest”(WTH?!) while praying. The strange thing is she had met The Prophet (saw) and his community, she lectured in the Grand Ummayad mosque in Syria and taught well into old age she also taught some of the foremost scholars of her time who were at times older than her and even a caliph (Abd Al Malik) she was also noted for her arguments and debates with male scholars which she called her favorite way to worship God and somehow later scholars marginalized her opinion while citing less known, less credited and less knowledgeable male scholars. it sucks to be honest.
    I didn’t find her fatwa while stumbling upon some of the others (I’m still hunting it down currently so wish me luck!🙃)


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