Islamic feminist who preaches gender justice within Islam
The recent resurgence of Islam has much to do with freedom from colonialism, feels Amina Wadud, a leading Islamic feminist. She also told the Public Broadcasting Service, in an interview in 2002, that, “there are women who have been engaged in Islamic reform whose avenue of approach has been almost 100 percent the Sharia reform methodology. So I am in support of that voice”. Wadud is one of the most knowledgeable modern scholars of Islam. And for nearly two decades she was the Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the Virginia Commonwealth University. In brief, she is an Islamic feminist who believes that gender justice is entirely possible within the tenets of Islam. And for this, she feels, a reform of the Sharia (Islamic canonical law) is necessary.
LIFE AND TIMES OF AMINA WADUD
Wadud was born Mary Teasley in an African-American Christian family in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1952. Her father was a Methodist minister. She studied at the Pennsylvania University between 1970 and 1975, and during this period she converted to Islam. Finally, around 1974 Mary Teasley officially changed her name to Amina Wadud. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, Wadud did her masters in ‘near eastern studies. Then, the noted Islamic feminist scholar went on to obtain her Ph.D. degree through her research on Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan in 1988. She studied advance Arabic at Cairo’s American University, Quranic interpretation at the Cairo University, and philosophy at Al-Azhar University. Thus, the Islamic feminist comes with a solid foundation in Arabic and Islamic studies.
WORK AND CONTRIBUTION TO ISLAMIC FEMINISM
One of Wadud’s great contributions towards the cause of Islamic feminism was to participate actively in the foundation of Sisters in Islam in 1988. The NGO was formalized through registration in 1993. The organization’s primary goal is to promote women’s rights within the framework of Islam. Explaining that she, as a feminist, had no quarrel or contradiction with Islam, Wadud told the PBS, “So for me, the more I studied in the Quran, the more liberated I became, and the more affirmed I became as a Muslim.”
Naturally, a section of the Islamic clergy has criticised some of her actions. She, for example, acted as an Imam on Friday 18 March 2005, for a congregation, without any gender divide, in Manhattan, New York. Islamic scholars like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi of Qatar and Sheikh Sayyid Tantwai criticised the move. On the other hand, many scholars supported the Islamic feminist as well. These include Egyptian scholar Gamal al-Banna, Islamic scholar Ibrahim E.I. Moosa and professor Khaled Abu El-Fadl.
Wadud has also written and lectured extensively on the subject of women’s rights within Islam. Among her well-known books are Quran and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, and Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam. In 2007 Wadud received the prestigious Danish Democracy Prize. In the same year, an Iranian Dutch filmmaker made a documentary on the life of the famous Islamic feminist.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)