Constructing Gender Egalitarianism in Islamic Feminist Discourses: The Works of Mernissi and Lamrabet

By M. Amine Tais
Submitted to Session P4950 (Between Continuity & Change: Conceptualizing Slavery, Tyranny, Gender, and Tolerance in Islamic Thought & the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
Rel Stds/Theo
Maghreb;
Islamic Thought;
The increasing use of the conception of Islamic feminism has created a debate on whether Islam and feminism were compatible. What often remains on the margins of that debate and in many ways does not allow for an appreciation of the dynamics of modernist Islamic reformism is the dissimilarities between distinct trends of feminism within Muslim contexts. Although Muslim feminists seek to reform and rethink the issue of gender egalitarianism through a re-reading of Islamic sources and central texts of the tradition, it is crucial to note the difference between what I term the reconstructionist and revivalist tendencies in contemporary reformism.

To illustrate these differences, the paper analyzes the works of two influential Moroccan Muslim reformist authors who attempt to engage the Islamic heritage from a modernist standpoint and articulate a gender egalitarian perspective. Fatima Mernissi, a pioneer in the field of feminism in the Arab world and Asma Lamrabet, a proponent of liberation theology in Islam, are two Moroccan thinkers who are frequently mentioned as examples of Islamic feminism proponents. Yet, there are critical differences between the two authors in the way the concept of gender is articulated and the frame of egalitarianism constructed as well as in the kind of vision of society each author puts forward. The paper takes a close look at some of the two authors’ most important works and contextualizes them. It shows that Mernissi embraces a secular frame of reference that desacralizes the encounter of the interpreter with Islamic textual sources and the formative era of Islam and envisions a secular order that protects the rights of Muslim women and freedom of religion. The paper also argues that in contrast to that, Lamrabet is a proponent of a comprehensive Islamic order that puts the Qur’an and Hadith at the center of social and political life. She seeks to show that those sacred sources call for gender egalitarianism and that patriarchal interpretations of Islam are deviations from the "true" divine message and teachings of the Prophet.