Khan, “Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom”

In May, the Cornell University Press will release “Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom: The Sultanahs of Aceh, 1641−1699,” by Sher Banu A.L. Khan (National University of Singapore).  The publisher’s description follows:

In Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom, Sher Banu A. L. Khan provides a fresh perspective on the women who ruled in succession in Aceh for half the seventeenth logo_cornelluniversitypresscentury. Khan draws fresh evidence about the lives and reigns of the sultanahs from contemporary indigenous texts and the archives of the Dutch East India Company.

The long reign of the sultanahs of Aceh is striking in a society where women rulers are usually seen as unnatural calamities, a violation of nature, or even forbidden in the name of religion. Sovereign Women in a Muslim Kingdom demonstrates how the sultanahs’ rule was legitimized by both Islam and adat (indigenous customary laws). Khan provides original insights on the women’s style of leadership and their unique relations with the male elite and foreign European envoys who visited their court. This book calls into question received views on kingship in the Malay world and shows how an indigenous polity responded to European companies in the age of early East-West encounters during Southeast Asia’s age of commerce.

Sayan-Cengiz, “Beyond Headscarf Culture in Turkey’s Retail Sector”

This month, Palgrave Macmillan is releasing “Beyond Headscarf Culture in Turkey’s Retail Sector” by Feyda Sayan-Cengiz (Istanbul Bilgi University). The publisher’s description follows:

The headscarf issue draws a great deal of public and academic attention in Turkey, yet the debate largely unfolds within the contours of the discussions over modernization, Westernization, and the Islamic / secular divide. Rarely is there a discussion about how the connotations of the headscarf shift across cleavages of class and status among women wearing it. Instead, the headscarf is typically portrayed as a symbol of Islamic identity, a ‘cover’ that brackets social inequalities other than those based on a supposed ‘clash of identities.’ This study looks beyond these contours by contextualizing the headscarf discussion in an insecure and low-status private sector labor market – namely, retail sales. Based on in-depth interviews, focus groups with lower-middle-class saleswomen with headscarves, and ethnographic study in five cities of Turkey, this book argues that the meanings of the headscarf are continuously negotiated within the quest for social and economic security.

Majeed, “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands”

In June, the University Press of Florida will release “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands” by Debra Majeed (Beloit College). The publisher’s description follows:

Debra Majeed sheds light on families whose form and function conflict with U.S. civil law. Polygyny–multiple-wife marriage–has steadily emerged as an alternative to the low numbers of marriageable African American men and the high number of female-led households in black America.

This book features the voices of women who welcome polygyny, oppose it, acquiesce to it, or even negotiate power in its practices. Majeed examines the choices available to African American Muslim women who are considering polygyny or who are living it. She calls attention to the ways in which interpretations of Islam’s primary sources are authorized or legitimated to regulate the rights of Muslim women. Highlighting the legal, emotional, and communal implications of polygyny, Majeed encourages Muslim communities to develop formal measures that ensure the welfare of women and children who are otherwise not recognized by the state.

 

Bauer, “Gender Hierarchy in the Qur’ān: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses”

In May, Cambridge University Press will release “Gender Hierarchy in the Qur’ān: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses” by Karen Bauer (Institute of Ismaili Studies, London). The publisher’s description follows:

This book explores how medieval and modern Muslim religious scholars (‘ulamā’) interpret gender roles in Qur’ānic verses on legal testimony, marriage, and human creation. Citing these verses, medieval scholars developed increasingly complex laws and interpretations upholding a male-dominated gender hierarchy; aspects of their interpretations influence religious norms and state laws in Muslim-majority countries today, yet other aspects have been discarded entirely. Karen Bauer traces the evolution of their interpretations, showing how they have been adopted, adapted, rejected, or replaced over time, by comparing the Qur’ān with a wide range of Qur’ānic commentaries and interviews with prominent religious scholars from Iran and Syria. At times, tradition is modified in unexpected ways: learned women argue against gender equality, or Grand Ayatollahs reject sayings of the Prophet, citing science instead. This innovative and engaging study highlights the effects of social and intellectual contexts on the formation of tradition, and on modern responses to it.

Jouili, “Pious Practice and Secular Constraints: Women in the Islamic Revival in Europe”

In May, Stanford University Press will release “Pious Practice and Secular Constraints: Women in the Islamic Revival in Europe” by Jeanette S. Jouili (College of Charleston). The publisher’s description follows:

The visible increase in religious practice among young European-born Muslims has provoked public anxiety. New government regulations seek not only to restrict Islamic practices within the public sphere, but also to shape Muslims’, and especially women’s, personal conduct. Pious Practice and Secular Constraints chronicles the everyday ethical struggles of women active in orthodox and socially conservative Islamic revival circles as they are torn between their quest for a pious lifestyle and their aspirations to counter negative representations of Muslims within the mainstream society.

Jeanette S. Jouili conducted fieldwork in France and Germany to investigate how pious Muslim women grapple with religious expression: for example, when to wear a headscarf, where to pray throughout the day, and how to maintain modest interactions between men and women. Her analysis stresses the various ethical dilemmas the women confronted in negotiating these religious duties within a secular public sphere. In conversation with Islamic and Western thinkers, Jouili teases out the important ethical-political implications of these struggles, ultimately arguing that Muslim moral agency, surprisingly reinvigorated rather than hampered by the increasingly hostile climate in Europe, encourages us to think about the contribution of non-secular civic virtues for shaping a pluralist Europe.

 

Abu-Lughod, “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?”

do muslimNext month, Harvard University Press will publish Do Muslim Women Need Saving by Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows.

Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights.

In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism–conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West–are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women’s lives.

Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam–as well as a moving portrait of women’s actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.

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