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Nevin Reda & Yasmin Amin (éd.), Islamic Interpretative Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change

Minlib Dallh
p. 231-233
Référence(s) :

Nevin Reda & Yasmin Amin (éd.), Islamic Interpretative Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change, Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020, 388 p.

Texte intégral

1The essays assembled in this volume are remarkable contributions to the vexing problem of patriarchal and androcratic interpretative traditions of the Quran and Sunna. Eleven women scholars (Muslims and non-Muslims) engage in de-canonizing the hegemonic traditionalist tafsīr, fiqh and iǧmāʿ. They do so by subverting and interrogating the very idea of ‘canonization’ of texts and practices in Islam. They propose an ethical-oriented reading or interpretation of gender related verses, in order to insure justice and equality in contemporary Muslim societies.

2In her introduction, Nevin Reda remarks, “in this volume, we understand canonization to mean non-definitive, non-authoritative ‘authorization’… generally led by the predominantly male religious scholarly elite...” (p. 7). She applies her approach to the thorny case of polygamy in the tafsīr of al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) and Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328). Reda explores first the tafsīr bi-l-maʾṯūr method, which is dominant among traditionalists, and second, Islamic feminist method based on the assumption that God speaks equally to every generation and revelation is well-suited to believers in all time and place. In this context, Reda, like her co-authors, rejects the idea of a frozen corpus of texts and practices and embraces fully Khalid Abou el Fadl’s arresting statement “there is a serious problem with arguing that God intended to lock the epistemology of 7th century into the immutable text of the Qurʾan, and then intended to hold Muslims hostage to this epistemological framework for all ages to come” (p. 342).

3The book is divided into three parts: 1) “The Qurʾan and Its Interpretation”; 2) “Figurative Representation: Ḥadīth and Biographical Dictionaries”; and 3) “Fiqh and Its Applications”. It is worth noticing that most authors believe in the normative role of their religious tradition and take seriously its pre-modern interpretive tradition. Their goal is to find answers to ethical and hermeneutical challenges from within their tradition. They seek to dismantle a patriarchal construct that sanctions gender inequality and essentialist discourse on maleness and femininity. For these contributors, the question of gender in the Islamic interpretive tradition is not confined to the issue of inequality and injustice that women suffer because of patriarchal hierarchy. They believe that the problem arises from the disconnect (and contradiction) between the exegetical and juristic construction of issues concerning gender (marriage and divorce, child marriage, domestic violence, polygamy), and the core theological and ethical principles that underlie the two foundational texts of Islam.

4A case in point is Asma Afsaruddin’s exploration of the concept of wilāya in Quran 9:71. She proves that pre-modern exegetical and juridical discourses are products of their time and milieu. She insists that the normativity of scriptural interpretation rests on whether or not they conform to the fundamental quranic ethos of justice and equality with regard to gender.

5Wisely, the essays avoid the sterile debate about whether there is an authentic Islamic feminism or Muslim feminism. Confidently, they debunk persistent criticism against Islamic feminism, which brands Muslim women’s scholarship as lacking methodological rigour. Omaima Abou-Bakr and Mulki Al-Sharmani’s article on divorce verses in the Quran is a tour de force. They offer a Foucauldian archaeology of the term qiwāma as understood in the last ten centuries exegesis of Quran 4:34. Both authors present a compelling rereading of marriage and divorce in order to “enable the formation of Muslim subjectivities that enact the Qurʾanic ethos”.

6In this volume, the authors take issue with quranic verses and ḥadīṯ used to devalue women political and theological agency. Readers would appreciate Aisha Geissinger’s dissection of Ibn al-Ǧawzī’s (d. 597/1201) Ṣifat al-ṣafwa with regard to women’s engagement with tafsīr, or Sarah Eltantawi’s exploration of the role of the Caliph ʿUmar ibn al-Ḫaṭṭāb in the legislation of stoning adulteress women, or Yasmin Amin’s excellent deconstruction of the persistence practice of child marriage. Sensibly, these writers concluding that male scholars’ social context often impinged upon their interpretations of key quranic verses that deal with women.

7In her essay, “Revisiting the Issue of Minor Marriages”, Amin shows that the very scriptural foundations of this practice are at best controversial and its interpretive tradition unreliable. She bases her argument on solid sources, which allows her to contest even ʿĀʾiša’s age at her marriage with Muḥammad. Above all, Amin proves convincingly that the practice of child marriage is contrary to both maqāṣid al-šarīʿa and maṣlaḥa. The physical and mental health risks proven by modern medicine show that child-bride practices are harmful to girls and their progeny and serve no other purpose than male authority and female submission.

8Finally, reader will enjoy some unusual themes such as Amina Inloes, “How Did Eve Get Married? Two Twelver Shiʿi Ḥadīth Reports”, and Doris Decker, “The Love of Prophet Muḥammad for the Jewish Woman Rayḥāna bint Zayd”. Every author in this volume demonstrates in her article the need to de-canonize the ‘frozen’ tradition. They insist on the ethical and egalitarian interpretations of gender related verses in Islamic scriptures and historical literature. Their critical engagement with Islamic interpretive tradition is admirable not only theoretically but also practically. The authors hope to produce a significant shift in the lived experience of contemporary Muslim women.

9The writers, successfully, mobilise the quranic ethical worldview and the prophetic Sitz im Leben to demonstrate that the patriarchal and androcratic agenda of the majority of pre-modern and modern male scholars undermine seriously equality and justice in Muslim families. One could regret that women’s significant contribution to Sufism and their seminal role in ḥadīṯ collection and narration were not covered in this volume. All in all, this book advances the study of gender justice in Islam forward. It will make readers (specialist or not) more perceptive regarding the multifaceted gender issues in Islamic tradition.

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Minlib Dallh, « Nevin Reda & Yasmin Amin (éd.), Islamic Interpretative Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change »MIDÉO, 37 | 2022, 231-233.

Référence électronique

Minlib Dallh, « Nevin Reda & Yasmin Amin (éd.), Islamic Interpretative Tradition and Gender Justice: Processes of Canonization, Subversion, and Change »MIDÉO [En ligne], 37 | 2022, mis en ligne le 13 novembre 2022, consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL :

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