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Language and its Discontents

The reader will notice that I refer to the hermeneutics of Wadud and Barlas as ‘women’s gender egalitarian readings’ of the Qur’an. I am uncomfortable classifying these exegetes as feminists, even as Islamic feminists, because—as this and the following chapter will show—they both explicitly reject identifying as feminists, citing various reasons. These include critiques of the racial dominance of White women within feminist circles as well as feminism’s secular biases. It is precisely for these reasons that Wadud, though willing to use feminist as an adjective to describe her work, prefers to position herself as ‘profaith, pro-feminist’.1 In light of her refusal to identify as feminist, it can be argued that she views the signifier ‘pro-faith, pro-feminist’ as an alternative to feminism rather than an alternative feminism, that is, an approach that is critical of dominant practices of feminism but nonetheless identifies as feminist. At the same time, I also find the term ‘women’s readings’ of the Qur’an problematic. While the term effectively conveys the centrality of women’s agency in the exegetical

Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 79-80.

task, producing readings based on their own experiences (as opposed to male readings about women, whether patriarchal or egalitarian), it falls into the trap of essentializing the type of readings that women produce. That is, the term ‘women’s readings’ of the Qur’an presumes that these readings will necessarily be progressive, liberative, radical. But cannot a woman’s reading—or, for that matter, a reading of any marginalized group—accept, even embrace, unequal power structures? And, if so, are these readings to be hastily dismissed as expressions of false consciousness? In other words: are they really women’s readings? To avoid such essentialism, I have added the qualifier ‘gender egalitarian’ when referring to Wadud’s and Barlas’ work and to justice-based readings produced by women in general.

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