Accepting the responsibility of writing a review of a book like this volume edited by the outstanding scholar Margot Badran is both challenging and pleasant.Margot Badran is currently a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Middle East Program) in Washington, and she has become well known in the academic and non-academic milieu for her contributions on women, gender, and feminism in Islam and Muslim societies. In particular, there has been an increasing interestin herwritings, such as in her two booksFeminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (Oneworld, Oxford, 2009), a selection of her scholarly work over more than two decades, and Feminism beyond East and West: New Gender Talk and Practice in Global Islam (Global Media Publication, New Delhi, 2007), which brings together a collection of her public intellectual work, mainly essays published in the Egyptian Al Ahram Weekly.
In the imaginary and complex sceneries of the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, books are conceived as gateways to different worlds.In publishing Gender and Islam in Africa: Rights, Sexuality and Law, Margot Badranhas not only made avaluable compilation of papers from a conference organized at the ISITA (Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa), but she has also presented a volume that illustrates how a multidisciplinary approach to studying issues such as gender, sexuality, and Islam can facilitate the perception of the complex and subtle ways in which African women´s lives are constructed, represented and contested. Thus, this is a scholarly book that will open, in the “borgean” sense, a gateway to new worlds for both non-academic readers and researchers.
Margot Badran´s edited volume gives a complex picture of Africa. In addition to reflecting on current theoretical and methodological tendencies, Gender and Islam in Africa also puts forward new innovative approaches to the critical exploration of several relevant and controversial issues, such as corporeality and sexuality. Moreover, it offers very interesting data.
This volume is composed of three parts: a first section entitled “Women re/produce knowledge”, a second section entitled “Re/constructing women, gender, and sexuality”, and a last section entitled “Shari´a, family law, and activism”. Chapters variously focus on knowledge production (Chapter 1, Beverly B. Mack), marginality and agency (Chapter 2, Ousseina D. Alidou), Islamic feminism (Chapter 3, Raja Rhouni), gender violence in marriage (Chapter 4, Sa´diyyaShaikh), moral womanhoodin popular songs (Chapter 5, LidwienKapteijns), gender ideology and praxis in the TablighJama´at (Chapter 6, MarloesJanson), visual culture (Chapter 7, Heike Behrend), Shari´a activism (Chapter 8, Margot Badran), monogamy and secret marriage (Chapter 9, Corinne Fortier), democracy and reform (Chapter 10, Julie E. Pruzan-Jorgensen), and family laws (Chapters 10, 11 and 12, Julie E. Pruzan-Jorgensen, Benjamin F. Soares and RashidaManjoo).
As stated before, one of the main virtues of this book is that it constitutes a good example of multidisciplinarity as contributions come from the fields of history, anthropology, sociology,political science, linguistics, literary criticism, gender studies, religious studies, feminist studies, film studies, and the law, and they are informed by different theoretical and methodological frameworks and perspectives. Data are gathered from different African countries like Nigeria, Niger, Morocco, South Africa, Somalia, Gambia, Mauritania and Mali.Even if the book starts off with a chapter that examines female intellectual production in the early 19th century, it generally focuses on the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Both its view of the African continent as a whole and its focus on the contemporary contexts make the book an important and unmissable reading.
As Badran points out, women and gender in Africa as a field of research and academic inquiry goes back several decades. Islam, sexuality, and law have been points of serious debates in African societies´ scholarship, and this book brings together scholarship at the intersection of women´s and gender studies, Islamic studies, and African studies.As a result, the book shows an exciting convergence of interests.
Gender and Islam in Africa is a valuable resource for scholars interested in gender and Islam and,more generally, to social scientists working on Africa. The articles in this volume highlight the fact that women themselves have contested discourses, practices, and laws, and have promoted influential advances in their societies, such as in engaging in public transformative acts in the cultural, political, and economic domains through social networks in religious or secular spaces (Ousseuna D. Alidou); in negotiating gender ideologies in daily practices (MarloesJanson); in claiming a depatriarchalized Islam (Margot Badran); or in legally using the subtleties or ambiguities of Islamic jurisprudence to make their wishes prevail (Corinne Fortier).All the articles in this volume, in various and different ways, endeavor to shed light on the socially significant aspects of African women´s actions and ideas.
In sum, Gender and Islam in Africa offers a refreshingly new perspective on a broad range of issues and will be a welcome contribution to many fields within the social sciences and humanities. I am convinced that this book will reward those whose interests lie in exploring women´s agency, and that it will also bring a reward to those whose concern with gender lies in challenging the current notions and stereotypes. Last but not least, Margot Badran´s edited volume enhances critical understanding of the ways in which African women have promoted the ideals and practices of equality, human rights, and democracy within the framework of Islamic thought.