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Can Muslims Respect Female Scholars Of Islam?

05/15/2017 12:13 EDT | Updated 05/15/2017 12:13 EDT

Dr. Amina Wadud critiqued that my recent blog only contained male voices. This is a legitimate criticism. I had the title changed to include the word "male."

My choice was intentional to showcase support for a minority view from traditionally trained male scholars, in order to reach out to orthodox Muslim men.

However, according to Dr. Mohamamd Akram Nadwi, Muslim women scholars are an integral part of the Islamic tradition. He notes that famous male scholars would consult and study from them without hesitation.

amina wadud

Amina Wadud (R) prepares to kneel in front of the congregation whilst leading Friday prayers for men and women at the Oxford Centre in Oxford, in southern England, on Oct. 17, 2008.(Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Women voices have also brought temperance as in the case of Amrah bint Abdur Rahman, who issued her scholarly opinion to save a Christian man from getting his hand severed.

In a similar vein, I'd like to highlight ten Muslim women, who face huge resistance for pushing boundaries.

1) Amina Wadud

Dr. Wadud has inspired a whole generation of Muslim scholars, both male and female. She can be rightfully called the mother of progressive Muslim thinkers and activists. However, leading prayers, pushing boundaries with reformist views and affirming LGBTQ Muslims has earned her threats and scorn by Muslim men. She remains undaunted.

In a recent a YouTube video, Dr. Samar Habib, noted for her seminal scholarship on homosexuality and Islam, captured her thoughts as follows.

"God in a sense is queer ... not defined or confined to masculine or feminine, ... through transgender we can ... come closer to understanding the nature of God ... it's through those very marginalized people that in society we traditionally repress or deny or negate, those are the very people through whom one can begin to understand ... the transcendent, transgender nature of God."

2) Kecia Ali

Amongst other academic endeavours, Dr. Ali has expanded our understanding of the Muslim marriage contract and on the reasoning of the jurist Imam Shafi.

Like Dr. Behnam Sadeghi, who showed how Hanafi jurists went against clear texts to forbid women from going out to pray, she has shown how Shafi went against the plain text. She writes:

"in Shafii's choice to interpret the Messenger's declaration that virgins must be consulted as saying something other than what seems obvious, he sidesteps rejection, instead shifting the meaning in such a way that the original sense is resisted."

3) Laury Silvers

Dr. Silvers work has focused on feminism and Sufi women, a glimpse of which is found in her blog. She helped co-found the religiously plural, gender equal and LGBTQ affirming el-Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto.

Having written a classic paper on women leading prayers, she empathetically depicts the mainstream Muslim orthodoxy as those who "what to provide certainty and protect the community from doubts that they fear will ultimately cause chaos."

4) Hina Azam

Dr. Azam has enriched our understanding of Islamic jurisprudence especially as it addresses sexual violence. This is significant, as sometimes women who are raped have been persecuted under laws where they are punished for adultery.

5) Nevin Reda

Nevin Reda is part of an inclusive mosque in Toronto. Her academic research on the Qur'an is enriched with biblical studies. Her article on affirming women Imams was met with resistance. Indeed, she reminds us that, "we need to stay away from ancestor veneration and scholar veneration and remain faithful to the one true God."

6) Ayesha Chaudhry

Dr. Chaudhry has advanced scholarship on Islamic law and domestic violence especially as it relates to verse 4:34. She is active beyond academia in civil society, which allows us to question her exclusion in all Muslim male panels.

7) Ziba Mir-Hosseini

Dr. Hosseini is a prolific academic and founding member of Musawah Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family. I drew upon her article where she captures a Hojjat el-Islam (authority on Islam), who offered ten arguments supporting the optionality of the headscarf.

8) Rana Dajani

Dr. Dajani mentions that she wears a hijab as a practicing Muslim and teaches evolution to University students in Jordan. This is significant given many conservative Muslim youth reject evolution. She has detailed discussions with students telling them when Darwin's ideas became synonymous with Western encroachment and how many Muslim scholars supported evolution.

9) Sa'diyya Shaikh

Dr. Shaikh focuses on Qur'anic exegesis and Sufi texts. She has emphasized "Tafsir of Praxis," which includes experiential and everyday modes of understanding Quranic teachings. This allows for the contribution of both women and LGBTQ Muslims.

10) Orbala

A Muslim feminist blogger and doctoral student, she is a staunch supporter of LGBTQ Muslims. Post Orlando, she strongly asserted that "the mainstream religious opinion on homosexuality" is responsible for "violence against the Muslim and non-Muslim LGBTQ community."

She rejects the "permanent celibacy test" argument as harmful and asserts:

"You simply can't condemn an essential, integral part of a person's identity, of their being, and say nonsense that begins with "but." I get that you're trying really hard not to be called out on your homophobia ..."

This is only a snapshot of a huge list of Muslim women scholars, who are often sidelined in all male Muslim panels.

The list includes veteran scholars like Riffat Hassan, Fatima Mernissi, Asma Barlas and Leila Ahmed. It includes Zayn Kassam, Sophia Rose Arjana, Karima Bennoune, Laleh Bakhtiar for her translation of the Qur'an and Aysha Hidayatullah for her viewpoint that Muslim feminist scholarship can be simultaneously celebrated and critiqued.

In essence, when we are unable to locate female voices, it necessitates that we acknowledge that significant voices are missing. This is important because often their contributions are sidelined and worse, appropriated as normative positions without acknowledgment.

Additionally, male scholars like Habib Jifri have asked women to become jurists to assert their rights but when senior scholars like Dr. Wadud do so, they are harangued by barely pubescent men.

This must change for how can we ever have ijma (consensus) when we ignore the voices of women scholars.

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