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Liberation for Whom?

While the struggle for gender justice clearly lies at the core of Wadud’s liberationist discourse, she acknowledges the complexity of human suffering, calling for a comprehensive approach to justice. Because women are marginalized, if not excluded altogether, from most articulations of social justice and of what constitutes a normative, egalitarian order,200 she is acutely aware of the importance of making connections between different forms of oppression. She notes, for example, that even Qur’anic commentators who argue that the text seeks to establish justice have continued, rather paradoxically, to issue highly patriarchal interpretations of verses dealing with women, reflecting the striking absence of gender in their understandings of justice.[1] Liberation, then, has to be a genuinely inclusive commitment, embracing everyone’s experiences. But just as Wadud has been left out of androcentric constructions of justice, she has also felt excluded, as a poor Black woman, from feminist discourses headed by wealthy White women.[2] Indeed, because the lives of African American women have been shaped primarily by the realities of racism, they have sharply criticized the feminist movement for failing to take their experiences into account.[3] Fleshing out this critique, Black women pioneered womanism and womanist theology as alternative liberationist discourses that acknowledged the key differences that exist between women, thinking holistically through questions of race, class, and gender.[4] Indeed, it is precisely because of the historic exclusion of Black women, as well as women based in the Third World, from the predominantly secular project of Western feminism that Wadud is wary of identifying as a feminist, situating herself instead as ‘pro-faith, pro-feminist’.[5] This emphasis on the ‘pro-faith agenda’[6] of her work, moreover, underscores her conviction in the compatibility of Islam and women’s rights, thereby transcending the polarized positions of secular Muslim feminists and Islamist women: the former claiming that religion is an obstacle to women’s liberation and the latter maintaining that Western discourses of human rights are alien to the faith and, thus, un-Islamic.[7]

Before embarking on an exploration of Wadud’s perspectives on justice beyond gender, however, it is important to note that her treatment of gender itself reflects a comprehensive commitment to liberation. Unlike Engineer, Wadud does not restrict her gender discourse to the problems of (heterosexual) women alone, standing in solidarity with LGBTQ Muslims. Being heterosexual, she situates herself as an ‘ally’, drawing a parallel between how men can stand in solidarity with women—discussed earlier in this chapter—and how heterosexuals can be in solidarity with homosexuals.[8] For just as progressive men, in patriarchal contexts, need to challenge men who are sexist (as opposed to speaking for women) so must progressive heterosexuals, in heteronormative settings, confront fellow heterosexuals who are homophobic.[9] In our interview, Wadud pointed to her role as a teacher in the university classroom. In addition to addressing homophobic comments, she makes a concerted effort to integrate examples relating to homosexuality into her teaching, thereby undercutting heteronormativity.[10] But being an ally does not mean that one is uncritical. Wadud criticizes the discourse of homosexual Muslims for being androcentric, foregrounding the diverse sexualities of men.211 As a result, the lived experiences and subjectivities of lesbian Muslims remain marginalized.

  • [1] Wadud, Qur’an and Woman, 35-6.
  • [2] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 80. 3 McCloud, 146.
  • [3] 204 Mary Grey, ‘Feminist Theology: A Critical Theology of Liberation’, in The
  • [4] Cambridge Companion to Liberation Theology, ed. Christopher Rowland (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2007), 111.
  • [5] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 79-80.
  • [6] Wadud, ‘Sisters in Islam’, 118.
  • [7] Wadud, ‘The Ethics of Tawhid over the Ethics of Qiwamah’, 262-3.
  • [8] Wadud, Interview 20 09. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid.
  • [9] 211 Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 86.
  • [10] 212 Wadud, Interview 2009.
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