Cover image for "Believing women" in Islam : unreading patriarchal interpretations of the Qur'ān
"Believing women" in Islam : unreading patriarchal interpretations of the Qur'ān
Barlas, Asma.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Austin, TX : University of Texas Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xvi, 254 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm

Format :


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BP173.4 .B35 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Does Islam call for the oppression of women? Non-Muslims point to the subjugation of women that occurs in many Muslim countries, especially those that claim to be Islamic, while many Muslims read the Qur'an in ways that seem to justify sexual oppression, inequality, and patriarchy. Taking a wholly different view, Asma Barlas develops a believer's reading of the Qur'an that demonstrates the radically egalitarian and anti-patriarchal nature of its teachings. Beginning with a historical analysis of religious authority and knowledge, Barlas shows how Muslims came to read inequality and patriarchy into the Qur'an to justify existing religious and social structures and demonstrates that the patriarchal meanings ascribed to the Qur'an are a function of who has read it, how, and in what contexts. She goes on to reread the Qur'an's position on a variety of issues in order to argue that its teachings do not support patriarchy. To the contrary, Barlas convincingly asserts that the Qur'an affirms the complete equality of the sexes, thereby offering an opportunity to theorise radical sexual equality from within the framework of its teachings.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Barlas, associate professor and chair of politics at Ithaca College, offers a comprehensive revisionist treatment of how the Qur'an actually views women as equal and even superior to men. Persuaded that Islam is a religion of egalitarianism, Barlas is equally clear that misogyny and patriarchy have seeped into Islamic practice through "traditions": the sunna, or the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam; the hadiths, or sayings attributed to Muhammad; and the shariah, or law derived from the Qur'an. Barlas argues that a military-scholarly complex manipulated the Qur'an to establish these traditions in a successful effort to preserve the position of the military rulers and clerics of early Islamic history with women's status being the victim. Some flawed traditions, along with mistranslations, ingrained patriarchy into Qur'anic interpretation, in spite of obvious Qur'anic injunctions to the contrary. Barlas's thesis is irresistible: the Qur'an itself has a very positive view of women whereas patriarchal culture caused the various interpreters of the Qur'an to read their own biases into the text to justify the oppression of women. Barlas quotes from a smorgasbord of Islamic scholars, resulting at times in a choppy read that drowns out her own more appealing voice. The opening chapter is bogged down in such quoting, and also in excessive worrying over her critics on either side of the debate. Despite these flaws, this book is loaded with interesting facts about Islam that may even surprise Muslims. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Interim director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity at Ithaca College, Barlas analyzes both the Qur'anic text itself and its relationship to other Muslim texts and to cultural context. She argues that the language of the Qur'an, with its emphasis on divine unity, justness, and incomparability, rejects "the patriarchal imagery of God-the-Father and the prophets-as-fathers" and in fact counters "the history of rule by fathers." She further argues that the Qur'an refuses to espouse a view of sex/gender differentiation, recognizing equal spousal rights for both sexes and mutuality in marital relations. The Qur'an even links "the reverence humans owe to God and the reverence they owe to their others" and "is the only Scripture to address the rights of girls" to paternal love and "the problem of fathers' abuse of daughters." Prevalent Qur'anic misreadings, she concludes, can be traced to the sunna (or traditions), the hadiths (or sayings) of the Prophet, and the shariah (or law), which were developed by an early military-scholarly complex. This challenging book complements Amina Wadud's Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective; both are important for academic and larger public libraries. Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Barlas (Ithaca College) presents an interesting analysis of the Qur'~n and Islam in which she contends that the Qur'~n does not condone sexual inequality or oppression. She argues that not only is the Qur'~n antipatriarchal, but that it encourages the liberation of women. Central to her case is a critique of interpretive methodologies historically used by Muslims to understand the Qur'~n and Islam and a call for a reexamination of the criteria for legitimate hermeneutics based on the "clear" principles of the Qur'~n. Furthermore, she examines the role of the state and tradition, then and now, in creating and maintaining one interpretation--a patriarchal one. In the final chapters, she uses a textual analysis to demonstrate her point, looking specifically at ayat's dealing with the family. Her book is a bit technical at times, particularly in dealing with the history of interpretation and the evolution of the Sunna and Ahadith, but these sections are also among the most informative. Some prior reading about Islam and Islamic history would be helpful. This informative piece is highly recommended to those interested in Islam, women, and religion. Upper-division undergraduates and above. F. J. Adely Columbia University

Table of Contents

1 The Qur'an and Muslim Women: Reading Patriarchy, Reading Liberation
Part I
2 Texts and Textualities: The Qur'an, Tafs'ir, and Ah'adith
3 Intertextualities, Extratextual Contexts: The Sunnah, Shar'i''ah, and the State
Part II
4 The Patriarchal Imaginary of Father's: Divine Ontology and the Prophets
5 The Qur'an, Sex/Gender, and Sexuality: Sameness, Difference, Equality
6 The Family and Marriage: Retrieving the Qur'an's Egalitarianism
7 Postscript
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