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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women


The motivation behind The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Women was to provide a supplemental volume to The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World that would focus more deeply on a particular theme, in this case, women and gender. Although there were some conceptual concerns about splitting off this topic—thus running the risk of giving the false impression that women’s issues are somehow separate from the major issues facing and being addressed in the Islamic world—we decided to take this as an opportunity to showcase the myriad ways in which women, both past and present, have played a vital role at all levels of family and society. We also sought to avoid the dual pitfall of focusing so exclusively on women’s herstory that men ended up being written out of history altogether. Our hope was to provide a more balanced approach—their story—in order to show interconnectedness. With this goal in mind, the encyclopedia was organized around ten themes that the editors believed would initiate new conversations and ways of thinking about what often seem to be standard issues.

Of particular concern in the selection of themes and entries was the shared goal of challenging stereotypes of women as passive recipients, whether of political policies or charity, in favor of restoring their contributions as active agents, including in politics and philanthropy, such as is highlighted in Politics and Polity, and Wealth, Welfare, and Labor. By choosing the theme of Self and Body, we sought to examine how women’s bodies are used and controlled not only by authorities and religions, but also, more importantly, by women themselves. Similarly, Community and Society was selected because it offers the opportunity to demonstrate women’s integral roles within their communities and societies and connecting them to the same, rather than sidelining them to exclusively female issues. This encyclopedia splits topics typically brought together under “religion” into two independent sections: Religion, Theory, Practice, and Interpretation, and Sharī?ʿah, Fiqh, Philosophy, and Reason, to highlight the varying levels at which religion is used and has an impact on both private and public life, and to assert the important differences between theory and practice and levels of authority. This distinction also shows how women are increasingly part of the conversation, rather than simply subjects of discussion.

The inclusion of Science, Medicine, and Education challenges the predominant stereotype that these endeavors have been historically male-dominated, while also demonstrating that women have made some of their most remarkable contributions to these fields in recent decades. Education has particularly opened many doors for women who are entering the workforce and professional careers in ever-larger numbers, changing both social and family dynamics. This section addresses the often overlooked historical contributions of women and attempts to challenge the assumption that there is an institutional monopoly on work in these fields by highlighting women’s work in informal settings. Culture and ­Expression encompasses a variety of fields, including literature, cinema, and contemporary means of expression, such as television, the Internet, social media, and blogs, bringing attention to the variety of media women use to express themselves, often to different audiences and with particular goals, rather than simply focusing on the medium itself.

Issues related to Immigration and Minorities appear frequently in headline news, although “immigrants” and “minorities” are typically presented as monolithic entities. The articles on these topics seek to introduce more complex ways of analyzing what these labels mean based on who assigns them, and to explore different ­constructs of these terms. Because so much theoretical literature related to women, gender, and feminism has appeared since the 1970s, these topics are given their own theme—Scholarly Approaches and Theoretical Constructs—to give a sense of their historical development with respect to, about, and, especially, by Muslim women.

The editors of this volume believed it was important to encourage cross-conversation between disciplines and approaches. We challenged ­authors to make connections between the specific topics and broader methodologies, such as ­feminist theory, postcolonial thought, and world ­history. Our goal was to highlight the cross-­pollination of ideas and experiences, as well as the interconnectedness of historical development. The resulting compilation of 451 entries by 267 contributors representing 38 countries reflects this global, interdisciplinary vision.

We decided to include a significant number of biographies in this collection, not to subscribe to the “great woman in history” approach, but to restore these voices in history and to draw attention to new voices as they make history. In each case, care has been taken to demonstrate how the individual represents broader trends or concerns without asserting that she worked alone or in a vacuum. The inclusion of these biographies is intended to serve as a response to claims by various parties that women have never served in a particular capacity before, thus purportedly justifying ongoing refusal to allow them to do so now. The provision of a variety of examples is intended to challenge this status quo and to create space for new conversation.

Many international flashpoints occurred during the course of this project, not the least of which were the Arab Spring and its resulting questions about the “appropriate” role of women in the new governments and societies and who was to determine what such a role would be, various laws in different European countries and even FIFA banning certain types of clothing typically associated with Muslim women, and periodic reports of Muslim women being charged with adultery in the aftermath of rape and being stoned or lashed to death, as sadly occurred in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Yet, even in the midst of such contention, some victories were also achieved: women played a prominent role in the events of the Arab Spring, as leaders, organizers, and participants, and a number of Muslim women were appointed to different positions for the first time; Saudi women received the right to vote and serve as full members of the Shura Council; three Bahraini women were appointed as muezzins (callers to prayer); and Malaysia appointed its first female judge and launched a TV show Solehah to seek the best female preachers. All these issues directly relate to issues we sought to address in the ­encyclopedia—women’s agency, the increasing ­insertion of women’s voices into even the most traditionally male aspects of religious interpretation in public ways, the creation of new public spaces for women’s voices and contributions, and the very real need to continue to raise awareness of the ways in which religion has been and continues to be misused and misinterpreted to commit injustice against women, as well as some of the creative and insightful ways women are fighting back against such abuse by reasserting and reinterpreting their religion themselves.

Using the Encyclopedia

Entries in the encyclopedia are arranged alphabetically for ease of access and a table of contents appears at its beginning. A topical outline listing all the entries is included for each theme in alphabetical order at the end of the encyclopedia, along with a list of contributors and a full index. There are also overview articles for each theme in the main body of the encyclopedia, written by the responsible area editor, explaining the theoretical approaches undertaken in organizing and analyzing the theme. Cross-references are provided at the end of each article in order to guide readers to other related topics that may be of interest. “Blind entries” are also included to direct readers to the main entry terms from alternate titles.

This volume contains a variety of linguistic origins, mainly Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, but Urdu, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia as well, in addition to some African dialects, among others. Anglicized versions of words have been standardized. Diacritical marks have been used to indicate long vowels and non-English characters. In a few cases, such as “hijab” and “jihad,” the words appear without diacritical marks because they have passed into common English usage. Finally, we have elected to use the word “God,” rather than “Allah,” throughout in order to make clear the connection between the Abrahamic faith traditions.


The board of area editors for this volume was selected with the goal of combining expertise in different disciplines, geographic regions, and time periods. In working on this encyclopedia, we were sure to reflect the goal of not just talking about, but talking with, Muslim women from the very beginning, as well as to provide personal connection to and experience with different geographic regions and the interpretations of Islam particular to them, as shown through our collective connections to Bangladesh, Egypt, the Gulf, Sudan, and the United States.

It has been a delight to work with a talented board whose collective vision and dedication made this volume what it is. Asma Afsaruddin often led the way with timely submissions and revisions, and a positive outlook and energy to keep us all moving forward. Hibba Abugideiri juggled her responsibilities for the encyclopedia in the midst of welcoming a new baby into the world while also caring for a toddler and teaching full-time. Heba Raouf provided the intellectual vision at the beginning by challenging the board to break out of past standard themes and create our own framework. Her voice from inside Tahrir Square in Cairo during the uprisings that led to the fall of the Mubarak regime and ongoing work within the movement for democracy in Egypt has kept us all mindful of the importance of completing this work at this moment in time. To Asma, Hibba, and Heba, “alf mabruk” for a job well done and many thanks for bringing this project to fruition.

In addition to the editorial board, it took a team of dedicated people to bring this project to light, from its conception through its birth.

Many thanks are due, especially, to our hard-working contributors who took seriously their commitment to write substantive pieces connecting their topics to broader issues, responded graciously to our queries and requests for revisions, and, in many cases, pushed us further in our own thinking about the issues, ­opening our eyes to different ways of conceiving topics and adding a wealth of new information and resources in the process. It has been an honor to have the voices of senior scholars included in this volume and we are delighted to include some exciting new young scholars as well.

Thanks are due to Damon Zucca, acquiring editor, who began the conversation about the project in October 2009 and shepherded it through the construction process, offering valuable feedback with respect to how it fit into the bigger picture of Oxford Islamic Studies Online, as well as narrowing the considerable number of proposed entries.

Our deepest appreciation goes to Mary Funchion, former development editor, who cheerfully and confidently steered the project forward and took over portions of its administration, contacting and following up with authors and keeping the project on track. Her departure in May 2012 for other responsibilities was a loss to the project that could have proven disastrous, but we were fortunate to have two capable and committed interim support team members: editorial ­assistant Lauren Konopko and senior editor Alixandra Gould. Then, in June 2012, Anne Whittaker came on board as our new development editor and brought the project home. Anne enthusiastically jumped into the encyclopedia and doggedly pursued both articles and authors. She has been my right arm in the final stages of this project, providing a needed sense of humor, energy, and encouragement. We simply could not have completed it on time without her.

John Esposito, as series editor, has provided guidance, feedback, and support throughout, always believing in the importance of this project and quickly responding to any questions and concerns despite his own pressing schedule. He truly exemplifies and sets the gold standard for a mentor and deeply valued colleague and friend.

As often happens with projects of this scope and length, we were deeply saddened by the deaths of a few contributors, while others had to drop out because of extensive commitments or due to family challenges. We also had the joy of sharing in the welcoming of new lives as babies were born and new married couples as they came into existence.

Finally, we must extend a heartfelt thank-you to the husbands, fathers, and extended families and friends who took seriously the commitments of partnership, family, and community, especially by sharing child-care and household responsibilities and providing mutual support in career-building with us so that we could dedicate a ­portion of our time and attention to bringing this project to fruition, while remaining connected to our families.

Natana J. DeLong-Bas