Women, Leadership, and Mosques. Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority
WOMEN LEADERSHIP AND MOSQUES – Book Sample
PREFACE – WOMEN LEADERSHIP AND MOSQUES
The ability of women to exercise various types of Islamic religious authority has increased significantly since the early twentieth century, especially during the last two or three decades. Scholarship, however, has focused overwhelmingly on certain facets of this increase, in particular female leadership in Sufi groups and attempts to reinterpret Islam to accommodate gender equality, whether through an explicitly feminist framework or not.
Largely missing from the literature is serious analysis of the growing acceptance of women within mosques and madrasahs, spaces which have long been centers of Islamic author- ity, but which have traditionally excluded or marginalized women. The acceptance of female leadership and activities in these spaces is a significant change from historic practices, signaling the mainstream acceptance of (some forms of) female Islamic leadership.
Intellectual curiosity about the causes, parameters, and consequences of this shift led us to organize a conference that was entitled Women, Leadership, and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority and was held at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, in October 2009.
Our goal was to keep a tight focus on changes in the formal sphere of religious authority—the mosque and madrasah— while bringing together a geographically and methodologically diverse range of papers discussing female leaders in both Muslim majority and minority contexts. We invited a number of leading scholars already working on this under-researched topic and issued a call for papers.
We were pleasantly surprised when this call yielded an overwhelming response, including sixty abstracts of good quality. This interest— from both leading academics and younger scholars in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia—further confirmed the timely nature of our project. We expanded the number of places at the conference, but had to make many difficult decisions in selecting the twenty-one papers that were presented there, twenty of which are presented in the volume.
While reviewing the accepted abstracts, we identified three dominant themes related to female leadership: factors related to its emergence, factors related to its consolidation, and factors related to its impact— specifically, the multiple ways in which these women use their Islamic authority to reinforce or change norms within their communities.
Concentrating on these three themes helped focus our analytical work before, during, and after the conference, as we moved towards production of this volume.
We asked each participant to prepare an in-depth study of the authority of a female leader or leaders in their region of study that focused on one of our three themes and addressed mosque or madrasah space. Because it was a publication-driven conference, we required authors to submit papers in advance for pre-circulation, and structured the conference such that the emphasis was on dialogue instead of presentation.
At the conference itself, we were fortunate to have Walter Armbrust (a co-sponsor of the project), Francis Robinson, David Parkin, and Karen Bauer chair sessions and help steer debates, which greatly enriched the quality of discussion. The end result was an extremely stimulating and enriching debate over two days that highlighted the complexities of each theme, and provided each participant with focused feedback on their paper that was incorporated into subsequent revisions. We hope to have captured the depth of these debates in our introductory and concluding pieces.
We are extremely grateful to have been able to work with such a skilled and dedicated pool of authors. Unsurprisingly, a volume of this scale posed many logistical challenges, and we had to work hard to ensure consistency in thematic depth as well as style across the chapters. Interestingly, it was often easier to fix the former than the latter. We faced several challenges related to terminology and translation that should be mentioned at the outset.
With respect to translation of terms, we have let our authors decide when to preserve local terminology and when to translate into English, which has resulted in significant presence of foreign words in the text. Given the diversity of contexts represented in this volume, it is also important to recognize that the meaning of commonly used terms— often those of Arabic origin—shifts in important ways over time and space, and these terms need to be read and interpreted in the context of each chapter.
To assist our readers, our editor at Brill suggested that we try to capture these tensions by providing two sets of glossaries. First, there is a standard glossary, which lists all the foreign terms and abbreviations used in the volume with translations.
In addition, we have prepared a second glossary that groups terms describing female leaders and leadership activities thematically, so that the reader can get a sense of the vast number of terms that are inevitably compressed into English- language descriptions of various roles.
The issue of transliteration was equally contentious. Across the twenty-three chapters, the authors use many different languages, including Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Urdu, Chinese, and a wide range of European languages. We chose to use the Library of Congress romanization system for transliteration of non-Latin scripts instead of more commonly used conventions because it went beyond Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.
The end result, however, involves several less familiar transliterations of Arabic characters, including ‘ah’ for tāʾ marbūtah (instead of ‘a’ or ‘ā’ ) and á for alif maqsūrah (instead of ‘a’ or ‘ā’ ). All terms of foreign origin are put in italics and transliterated, while names of individuals and organizations are transliterated but not italicized.
Several of our participants—especially those writing about Europe or North America—felt that some terms having Arabic origins (such as fatwá, imām, muftī, shaykh) are sufficiently distanced in their chap- ters from their original Arabic context and thus should be spelled in the local language. The disciplinary backgrounds of the authors also influenced their comfort with the mechanics of transliteration with diacritics.
Thus, while we, as editors, have tried to standardize transliteration of common terms as much as possible, there is some variation between chapters. Here we must acknowledge the meticulous attention that our copyeditor, Ben Young of Babel Editing, has given to this manuscript. The long hours he has put in have greatly helped achieve consistency in style.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the authors in this volume for their excellent contributions, active cooperation, and hard work throughout the conference and publication process. We are extremely grateful to St Antony’s College and the Oriental Institute for providing the funding that made the conference possible.
Walter Armbrust, fellow of these institutions, provided significant support throughout this project, which we sincerely appreciate. We would like to thank Margot Badran for accepting this volume into the Women and Gender: The Middle East and the Islamic World series, and the editorial staff at Brill, especially Kathy van Vliet and Nicolette van der Hoek, for their assistance in getting the volume in print.
Finally, we would like to acknowledge the support provided by the sponsors of our respective research fellowships—the ESRC and AHRC (who fund Masooda’s Ideas and Beliefs Fellowship), and the Warden and Fel- lows of New College (who fund Hilary’s Sir Christopher Cox Junior Fellowship)—who allowed us time to work on this ambitious project. Masooda Bano y Kalmbach
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