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).