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Fatemeh Keshavarz

Recent scholarship on Muslim women gives us a far more balanced picture than the one often found in the popular media. It shows that throughout Islamic history in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, when it came to the transmission of religious knowledge, Muslim women have been neither totally marginalized nor pioneering scholars. In Feminist Edges of the Qur’an, Aysha Hidayatullah explores a recent, lively, and somewhat turbulent chapter in this history. She studies the works of Muslim women who have produced commentaries (tafsirs) on the Qur’an in the past half-century. These women write in a variety of languages (including English) and come from remarkably diverse national, cultural, and disciplinary backgrounds. Hidayatullah’s study shows that despite their many differences, these women scholars share one common objective: challenging the male monopoly over the interpretation of the Qur’an. Yet holding on to such a revisionist position has not been easy for these scholars.

Admired by thriving young Muslims who have found access to higher education in parts of the Middle East and South Asia in recent decades, these female religious scholars nonetheless face hostility from hardcore traditionalists, who view them as contributing to anti-Muslim Western narratives. From a traditionalist perspective, these commentators desacralize the holy text by applying to it modern hermeneutic techniques. Further, from the same perspective, the revisionist interpretive methods, feminist ones included, have another major problem: they are indifferent to the principles of Qur’anic exegesis and the rules of interpretation established by the oft-mentioned — though never quite defined — “Arabic-Islamic heritage.” 

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