ISLA 210 Lecture Notes - Afsaneh Najmabadi, Saba Mahmood, Amina Wadud
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JANUARY 30, 2012
Scholars in the field of women/gender in Islam: Afsaneh Najmabadi, Amina Wadud,
Lila Abu-Lughod, Saba Mahmood, Judith Tucker, Liela Ahmed, Beth Baron, Heba
Raouf, Islah Jad, etc.
They write on topics such as reinterpreting the Qur’an through the lens on gender,
“the politics of piety,” the women’s mosque movement in Egypt, women in specific
cultures (Bedouin, Egyptian, etc.), the family and feminism, are more.
Cairo and Alexandria in the 1940s and 1950s was an elite world and a women’s
world. Her suburb was very elite (Ain Shams, next to Heliopolis, another elite
suburb), and her home is surrounded by one of the town’s legendary gardens
(symbolic of her protected world).
She talks about the summers in Alexandria as being constricting, because she was
stuck at home with Nanny while her siblings as cousins went out with her Aunts into
She attended the English school in Heliopolis (significant British influence on her
childhood) → Jewish, Muslim and Christian students attend this school but she
realizes that she was being treated differently because she was a Muslim. This was
her first encounter with British racism which she would encounter further when she
went to England for University.
The World of Women? Women’s culture and women’s understanding of Islam were
distinguished from the Islam of men. Religion was an essential part of how women
understood their own lives and pondered why things happened and how they
should take them. Ahmed said that Islam was gentle, generous, pacifist, and
mystical. What was important about being Muslim was how you conducted yourself
and your attitude towards others. Women passed this along to each other through
their presence and conveying their beliefs. (Description on page 120-122).
The textual tradition of Islam is seen as “men’s Islam”→ there are two quite different
types of Islam (page 123).
Muslim feminists critique this→ they think that Ahmed’s claim about different types
of Islam is a result of her class and a particular time in history, not a fact (her
personal experience, not representative of all Muslim women). The Egyptian
women’s mosque movement (according to Saba Mahmood) transpired as an
attempt to respond of problems of modern structures of secular government that
marginalized religious knowledge as a means for daily management, not due to the
different and distinct men’s and women’s Islam. This scholarship identifies this
female agent only in secular terms, in the pursuit of individual freedom, not through
Tala Assad’s (Formations of the Secular) work is a critique of the secular.
Major political events that change the Cairo that they live in:
o Neguib and Nasser
o The Nasserist Revolution passed laws about minimum wage, free education
and health care, encouraging worker participation in management, land
reforms*, nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956.
o In the Arab World, he promoted pan-Arabism through the Cairo radio
o He stood up to elites (like Leila Ahmed) who were suspected to support
o It was a turning away from the politics of colonialism, and the nationalist
and anti-elite movements emerged.
o Nasser’s promises that he could defeat Israel and restore Palestine were
o Nasser’s Propaganda: Strong socialist rhetoric, saving Egypt from “the
exploiters, the despots, and the swindlers,” such as King Farouk and the
elites who supported him.
Suez War: Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal company in 1956 (jointly controlled
by the British and the French, who still believe they are imperial powers but don’t
have the resources to be involved in the same imperialism as they did in the 19th
As a result, the British, French and Israel plot to take down Nasser, and the Sèvres
protocol was the result, which was kept secret. The plan was for Israel forces
launched a large scale attack on the Egyptian forces, and the British and French
were to make appeals to the Egyptian government to halt all acts of war and
withdrawal all troops near the canal. It was a setup so the British and French could
send in troops to the Suez Canal region and eventually topple Nasser.
The Israelis do invade and the French and the British land paratroops in Egypt.
Eisenhower calls immediate halt, took it to the United Nations, and the British and
French plan is condemned. The British and French emerge humiliated and Nasser
emerges even more popular.