ABSTRACT. The role of women in Islam is invested with diverse meanings and discourses. The state, religious authorities, traditional Islamists and reformist intellectuals all claim the right to define the role of women in the Islamic society. This contestation over the meanings attached to women makes the issue of gender a key dimension of contemporary Muslim politics. This paper surveys the growing academic literature on women in Islam and presents two oppositional interpretative and analytical categories: secular modernist and Islamic reformist that both address the traditional, patriarchal Islamic discourse. The dichotomy between the two scholarly discourses emanates from differences in their frames of reference, methodology and outcome. It also presents arguments for synergy between secularism and Islam. My main argument in this paper is that searching for the appropriate framework is vital in understanding women activism in non-Western societies. The appropriate framing of the “Muslim women” question is needed not only for itself, but also because it carries important policy implications. Instead of subsuming the “Muslim women” question directly under the feminist theory, like most scholars do, I argue that we may use the well-developed theory to pose telling questions about the phenomenon, but without supposing that the answers will be the same and without insisting on strict correspondence. pp. 138–158

Keywords: Islamic society, Muslim women, gender justice

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Faculty of Economics and Political Science
Cairo University

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