Islamic Feminism in Historical Perspective (2017/18)

Course Description: 

This course focuses on the theories, political goals, strategies and activism of Islamic feminists regionally and nationally, within the context of the emerging global feminist movement. Following the rise of second wave feminism in the developing world, there have been a number of responses to the inherent marginalization of women of colour and devout women from this movement. As part of a much broader trend in post-colonial feminisms, Islamic feminism is part of a global and diverse response through women’s political organizations in Islamic countries to contribute equally to the development of civil society, social equality and a feminist re-interpretation of the Qu'ran. We will discuss how these women promote gender equality, social justice, and peaceful coexistence with all other races and religions based on a feminist reading of the sacred texts. We will look at how and why this form of expression has developed, and how an alternate theory of feminism is possible within a religion that frequently comes under attack for worsening the situation of women in the Arab world. We will explore how advocates of cultural relativism endorse theocratic gender relations in an effort to respect intersectional differences amongst women. Our goal by the end of the term is to determine how it is possible to foster a dialogue between secular and religious feminisms, by adopting a postcolonial feminist lens and focusing not only on the feminist praxis of Islamic feminism, but also the ways in which it offers a solution to global systems of inequality. 

Learning Outcomes: 

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand Islamic feminism as a diverse movement that reflects many varied streams of interpretation and understanding of gender values and theory based on the breadth of experiences of Muslim women globally. 
  • Appreciate the complex interplay of religious, nationalist and ethnic issues in shaping and manipulating gender identity in Islamic communities and states
  • Identify major feminist approaches to Islam, including text-based praxis, transnational ideological mobilization, and theory ranging across Marxist, nationalist, and religious fundamentalist areas of study.
  • Understand Islamic feminist practices within the context of the transnational feminist movement against capitalism/globalization.
  • Recognize key issues in the Western liberal feminist debate and understand how and why these have been detrimental to a number of groups, including Muslim religious women.  

Course Assignments and Grading 

  • Class Participation       30%
  • Book Review                 20%
  • Film Critique                 20%
  • Final Reflection Paper   30%

Course Requirements and Grading

Class Participation (30%)

This is a discussion-based course, and therefore you must come to class in order to receive a participation grade. If you do not come to class, you cannot pass this course. Should you be forced to miss class, you can “make up” one class throughout the term by writing a 1000-word analysis of the assigned readings for that week. You may not make up more than one missed class. Make-up work must be handed in to the instructor during the class period following the meeting you missed. If you anticipate missing classes (including for religious observances) please get in touch with me as soon as possible.

You should arrive for class having completed the reading and prepared to engage in a discussion of the material with your colleagues. Simply showing up and sitting silently in class is not considered participation, and you will not receive participation points for doing so. You must take an active part in classroom discussion and in-class activities. You are expected to contribute to EVERY CLASS DISCUSSION, and failure to do so will negatively affect your grade.

This course deals with sensitive and controversial material – especially given the current political climate in the U.S. and the long history of American imperialism that has shaped many of the developments we will discuss. I ask that you show every person in the classroom the same kind of courtesy and respect that you expect in return, REGARDLESS of colour, creed, sexuality or religious background. You are encouraged to share your background and experiences in class, therefore it is imperative that we maintain a free and warm intellectual environment so that we can provide the same respect to each and every individual student.

Book Review (20%)

For this assignment, you will read and critique Irshad Manji’s book, The Trouble with Islam Today following our class discussion on her work and its place within the discourse on Islam and women/women in Islam. Before you begin the assignment, please look at examples of scholarly book reviews first to get a sense of the format – we will also discuss this in detail during our class. In addition to Manji’s text, you are also required to employ two scholarly, peer-reviewed, book reviews of her work, and write your own review based on your reading of the text as well as the ways in which others have engaged with, or been enraged by, this culturally significant work. Your review should be no more than 6-8 pages in length.

Film Critique (20%)

Based on the film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolic (vol I), you will write a critical reflection of the film, with a particular focus on what kinds of information are provided, what kinds of methodologies are employed, how the author responds to Islam in Iran and what this means for her own personal brand of feminism, in addition to what you consider to be the message of the film for multiple and diverse audiences. A more detailed description of this assignment will be available on the course website. The film critique paper should be no longer than 6-8 pages in length.

The film can be found streaming free of charge on YouTube – be sure to find a copy with suitable subtitles.

Final Reflection Paper (30%)

For the final assignment of the course, you will pick one of the weekly topics and reflect upon how the readings address two or more of the major questions/themes in the course. In the paper, you should draw from the assigned as well as the suggested readings for that week – no additional research or sources are required. The paper should be approximately 8-10 pages in length, and adhere to the writing guidelines outlined below in the syllabus. We will discuss the paper in further detail during our class.