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Gender Justice as a Way of Life. The Reading of Amina Wadud

INTRODUCTION

This chapter examines the gender egalitarian exegesis of the Black American scholar Amina Wadud. The first part of this chapter will address the question of interpretive method: namely, how exactly does she read scripture? Like Esack and Engineer, Wadud prioritizes the Qur’an over other Islamic texts and traditions, such as the hadith literature and the Islamic intellectual heritage. But whereas Esack’s hermeneutic is built on praxis, or a dialectical interplay between action and reflection, Wadud’s hermeneutic, I argue, is a more linear mode of reading, in which liberating interpretations of the text are applied to contemporary contexts of oppression. In this methodology section, I also analyse and critique her discourse on religious authority, which is influenced by Fazlur Rahman’s ‘double movement’ theory. The chapter will then explore the relationship between Islam and gender justice. Specifically, how does Wadud (re)interpret the Qur’an in order to affirm the equality of women, to further the struggle against patriarchy? By unpacking the ways in which she expounds various aspects of scripture, from the Creation Story and depictions of the Hereafter to pressing women’s issues like polygamy and female leadership, I underscore the centrality of two hermeneutical tools in her exegesis: namely, textual analysis and historical criticism, the former entailing a careful, holistic study of what exactly the Qur’an says and, just as significantly, does not say, and the latter seeking to understand the text in light of its immediate setting of revelation. While Esack and Engineer draw upon the Exodus and the Battle of

Karbala, respectively, as paradigms of struggle, Wadud fleshes out the sociopolitical implications of tawhid (the unity of God) and khilafa (human trusteeship). This chapter will conclude by unpacking the scope of her discourse on social justice. As a result of her formative experiences as a woman born into a poor, Black household, Wadud has a comprehensive approach to justice, making connections with other forms of oppression, in particular racism. Like Esack and Engineer, then, she has a keen sense of the complexity of human suffering—a layered experience that is most eloquently embodied, for Wadud, in the figure of Hagar. However, the most crucial aspect of her comprehensive approach to liberation, I argue, is the commitment to live out such progressive values in the private sphere, particularly within the family. Indeed, to stand for justice in the public sphere is meaningless, even hypocritical, unless this act is paralleled by a practice of egalitarianism in one’s own home. As with the preceding chapters, I will set the context for discussion by providing some historical and biographical background. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to say a few words about terminology.

 
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