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Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: A New Reading

Nimat Hafez Barazangi

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"Readers of this work will learn that the Qur'an speaks to men and women with one voice, that men and women are equal when it comes to the worship of God. Thus, the male-dominated practices of several centuries derive not from divine revelation but from human error."--Charles E. Butterworth, University of Maryland

An original and uncompromising study of the Qur'anic foundations of women's identity and agency, this book is a bold call to Muslim women and men to reread and reinterpret the Qur'an, Islam's most authoritative source, and to discover within its revelations an inherent affirmation of gender equality.

Nimat Hafez Barazangi asserts that Muslim women have been generally excluded from equal agency, from full participation in Islamic society, and thus from full and equal Islamic identity, primarily because of patriarchal readings of the Qur'an and the entire range of early Qur'anic literature. Based on her pedagogical study of the sacred text, she argues that Islamic higher learning is a basic human right, that women have equal authority to participate in the interpretation of Islamic primary sources, and that women will realize their just role in society and their potential as human beings only when they are involved in the interpretation of the Qur'an. Consequently, a Muslim woman's relationship with God must not be dependent on her husband's or father's moral agency.

Barazangi, an American Muslim of Syrian origin, is a scholar, an activist, and a concerned feminist. Her analysis of the complex interaction of gender, religion, and the power of knowledge for self-identity offers a paradigm shift in Islamic studies. She documents the historical development of Islamic thought and describes how Muslim males have arrived at the prevailing exclusionary positions. She considers the issues of dependent morality and of modesty, especially in attire--a polarizing subject for many Muslim women. She integrates her analysis with interviews she conducted with Muslim women in the United States and Canada, comparing that data with information from a parallel group in Syria and with historical cases. She concludes that the majority of Muslim women today are not educated even for a complementary role in society.

The book offers a curricular framework for self-learning that could prepare Muslim women for an active role in citizenship and policy making in a pluralistic society and may serve as a guideline for moving toward a "gender revolution." Her main thesis, if carried out in the lives of Muslims in America or elsewhere, would be so radical and liberating that her discourse is more powerful than those of many Muslim feminists. She writes, "I intend this book to affirm the self-identity of the Muslim woman as an autonomous spiritual and intellectual human being."

Nimat Hafez Barazangi is a research fellow in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Cornell University.

"Highly recommended."
--Choice

"A valuable contribution to the Islamic scholarship-activism explosion of the 21st century"--Middle East Journal
--Middle East Journal

"Elegantly written and intelligently argued, this is an exceptional book… In a field littered with the strident, the clumsy, the redundant, the intellectually dishonest, and the overtly partisan, she skirts all those traps with grace and shows a way to move forward the grid-locked discussion over core Islamic values - especially but not only those concerning women."
--Middle East Quarterly

…demonstrate[s] through a careful pedagogic reading of the Qur'an that the current discourse on the place of Muslim women in the ummah (the global Islamic community) is fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Qur'an…Barazangi is not only taking on the entire traditional patriarchal-oriented Muslim ulama but doing so on their own terrain by forcing them to go back to the Qur'an.
--Comparative Education Review

Elegantly written and intelligently argued…an exceptional book…
--The Middle East Quarterly

" Relevant to the discourse of the fields its author wishes to influence. Barazangi's views should be considered by scholars of Islam and of Islam and gender, for her methods and interpretations are an imoprtant part of current discourse."
--Journal of Middle East Woman's Studies

"A book that may seem small in length, but could shift the debate on women and Islam to new influential directions. Highly recommended."
--Journal of Law and Religion

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