Women in the Qur'an

An Emancipatory Reading

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Asma Lamrabet
Translator(s): 
Myriam Francois-Cerrah
  • Markfield, UK: 
    Kube Publishing Ltd.
    , May
     2016.
     212 pages.
     £9.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781847740823.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Asma Lamrabet, physician by profession and scholar of Islam by vocation, makes an important contribution with this book, unpacking patriarchy in Islam and counteracting stereotypes that portray Muslim women as oppressed and absent from the religious scene.

Women in the Qur’an: An Emacipatory Reading is exactly what its subtitle promises: an emancipatory reading of the first and main source of Islam. It begins with a gender perspective that identifies the keys contained in the Qur’an that enable the development of a narrative to support feminist activism, and an enunciation of gender justice and spiritual autonomy, from women and for women.

Starting with the ayats or verses of the Qur’an that describe the creation of all members of humankind as equals, and based upon the fact that the Qur’an recognizes women as subjects of rights, Lamrabet engages in a radical critique of the mainstream discourse on Muslim women from both orthodox Islam and Western universalism.

This book is divided into two parts: the first is called "When the Qur'an speaks of Women," and deals with the Qur’an’s female characters. Balkis (the Queen of Sheba), Sarah, Hagar, and Maryam (the mother of Jesus/Isa) stand out among women Lamrabet describes as “at times idealized characters, but never dehumanized, whom God cites all through His message not with the objective of distracting us but in order for us to extract a teaching, a route, a path to follow….” (21).

Hagar, a major figure for Muslims, caught my attention in this section. She is known among Muslims for her testimony of faith and loyalty to God. Hagar, also present in the book of Genesis in the Bible, is the mother of Ishmael who, according to Islamic tradition, helped his father, Abraham (Ibrahim) to build the Kaaba. Hagar, a single mother, is abandoned by Ibrahim in the desert, according to a divine order. This situation could wreak havoc on any woman, but it strengthens the faith of Hagar, who declares, with serenity and excitement, "[s]o, certainly God will not abandon us" (39). The faith, confidence, and strength in the face of difficulties of this mother—lonely and poor—is remembered by Muslims in the ritual of as-Sa'i: the seven back-and-forth runs between Safa and Marwa during the Hajj (pilgrimage).

The second part of the book is called "When the Qur'an speaks to Women." It addresses the language of the Qur’an, and the symbolic and cultural elements that describe the status of Muslim women as political subjects. Lamrabet shows how the Qur'an uses inclusive language to respond to women's demands, and encourages the social participation of women on equal terms with men, stating that “Islamic history is replete of histories which illustrate how the Muslim community at the time of the Prophet was a community of women and men and thet they worked together and side by side for the good of all .…” (105).

Lamrabet is concerned, from a deconstructive perspective, with issues that are often cited as irrefutable proof of the oppression of women within Islam: the inheritance, testimony, the importance of men over women, and the controversial verses about polygamy and the alleged permission given in the Qur’an for men to beat women (139-159).

Lamrabet leads us—in an easy-to-read style—through the Qur’an, its female figures, and its discourse on women. On the one hand, she provides elements of analysis to critically adress the concept of freedom and narratives about the status and representations of Muslim women we face today; on the other hand, she allows us to understand that the story of a group of women, no matter the age, culture, or religious identity is the story of all women.

Finally, Lamrabet leaves us thinking about whether the Islam founded on egalitarian principles and practices that could, in the light of historical reference frames, be seen as feminist, is only the result of an aborted women’s revolution. This reflection is a critical one to make, considering the violent escalation of Islamophobia and extremism which we witness on a daily basis.

To read this book is to discover that Lamrabet plants seeds of sisterhood for every woman pursuing her freedom in the path of appreciation of women in the Qur'an.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente has done postgraduate work in Human Rights at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco, and is a Community Educator at the City Office for Women's Development in the Municipality of Concepcion, Chile.

Date of Review: 
September 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Asma Lamarbet is a pathologist in Avicenna Hospital, Rabat, Morocco. She is also an award-winning author of many articles and books tackling Islam and women's issues.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah is a writer and broadcaster whose articles have been published in the Guardian, Salon, and elsewhere.

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