Dossier 21: The War Against Feminism in the Name of the Almighty: Making Sense of Gender and Muslim Fundamentalism

Publication Author: 
Janet Afary
February 1999
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Two Feminisms[1]

In recent years, some post-modern feminists have warned us about the perils of generalizations in feminist theory that transcend the boundaries of culture and region, while feminist critics of postmodernism have argued conversely that abandoning cross-cultural and comparative theoretical perspectives may lead to relativism and eventual political paralysis.[2]As I will argue in this article, the two positions are not always as diametrically opposed as they seem to be. The militant Islamist movements which have proliferated across a wide variety of cultures and societies in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, have propagated remarkably similar policies and doctrines with regard to gender issues. As a result, a comparative theoretical perspective that would focus on this issue is both essential and surprisingly neglected. But careful distinctions need be made between conservative discourses - both Sunni and Shi'ite - that praise women's roles as mothers and guardians of the heritage yet deny them personal autonomy, and progressive discourses on Islam that argue for a more tolerant and egalitarian view of gender roles.

In examining the gender ideologies of several fundamentalist movements, we shall see that, despite regional and cultural variations, they exhibit a significant degree of similarity. Gender relations are not a marginal aspect of these movements. Rather, an important strength of fundamentalism lies in its creation of the illusion that a return to traditional, patriarchal relations is the answer to the social and economic problems that both Western and non-Western societies face in the era of late capitalism.

A number of feminist thinkers have tried to explain the appeal of fundamentalism among the middle and lower-middle classes in the predominantly Muslim societies of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia. Despite some significant regional variations, these studies can be divided into three groups. One group of writers has stressed the economic and political issues that have contributed to the rise of fundamentalist movements; a second group has explored the disruptive impact of modernization on the family; while a third group has argued that militant Islamist movements and organizations may indeed empower students and professional women in certain ways, though restricting their lives in others.[3] By critically examining these three approaches, we can develop a more integrated and dialectical explanation of fundamentalism, and understand why in the late-twentieth century men and women have become attracted to such authoritarian ideologies.

At the same time, Western readers need to become more attentive to the progressive Islamic discourses that are gradually developing in the region, voices that call for greater tolerance, diversity, and more egalitarian gender relations. In Iran a new generation of men and women, who are in opposition, are constructing feminist and democratic discourses on Shi'ite Islam, and are carefully and thoughtfully reinterpreting Muslim jurisprudence to arrive at more liberal perspectives on the issue of women's rights. As an Iranian historian who has followed these developments from afar, I will argue that we must map out the differences between voices of progressive women and men who, in difficult conditions, are carving out a more egalitarian discourse on Islam and gender relations, and the rhetoric of those, who under the rubric of the "sovereignty of the Muslim people" and "the struggle against colonialism and imperialism", have maintained nativist and reactionary teachings with regard to gender relations.

A Battle Over Terminologies or Bodies?

Scholars of the Middle East and of religious issues continue to debate the relevance of two terms, "Islamism" and "fundamentalism", to a growing number of cultural and political movements that have made substantial inroads in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia. Some, such as Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, have argued for the relevance of the term "fundamentalism", not just in the context of the Middle East, but for similar ideological currents around the world, which in the last two decades have sought political power in the name of religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism.

Fundamentalism in this view is a late twentieth-century phenomenon, a response to the loss of identity in a modern secular world. Fundamentalism is a militant movement that accepts and even embraces the technological innovations of the West, but shuns many social and cultural aspects of modern society, particularly in the realm of the family. Fundamentalists fight for a worldview based on an ideal and imagined past, and yet this past is a carefully constructed one which often rests on unacknowledged forms of theological innovation.

Fundamentalists believe they are carrying out the will of God, and are often intolerant of dissent both within and without the community of believers.[4] Others such as John Esposito and Edward Said have criticized indiscriminate use of the term. In Said's view, by constructing reductive notions of "terrorism" and "fundamentalism", the West has attempted to claim for itself "moderation, rationality" and a specific Western ethos.[5] Both groups of writers, however, would agree that despite significant regional and political differences among these movements, such Islamist or fundamentalist groups have called for a return to more traditional norms for women, emphasizing women's roles in procreation, the adoption of "proper hijab" (the Islamic dress code), and submission to patriarchal values. A few examples should suffice to establish this point.

The first dramatic reversal in women's rights took place during the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which brought to power the Islamic Republican Party (IRP). To this day, strict government enforcement of the hijab and periodic rounding up, fines, and imprisonment of women on charges of "improper hijab" continue. Despite some compromises by the government in the areas of education, divorce and marriage law, and employment, and despite the fact that women remain very active in the social and political life of Iran, holding high academic, managerial, and even political positions, Iranian women remain segregated in schools, on buses, and on beaches and are restricted in their choice of career, employment, and education. Prohibitions against dating and casual friendship between unrelated men and women remain strong, while polygamy, encouraged by the government, has increased among the urban middle classes.[6] The election in May this year by a large margin of the more moderate President Mohammad Khatami, whose support was particularly strong among women and young people, shows how frustrated Iranians have become with the harsh policies of the Islamist Government, and how widespread the desire for change was after eighteen years.

In Sudan and Afghanistan fundamentalist groups have assumed control of the government and so have significant authority in imposing their views, while in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon, Islamist movements remain in opposition to the government. These and other religious revivalist movements do not operate in isolation from one another. Indeed the 1994 UN Population Conference in Cairo became the scene of a new type of alliance between the Roman Catholic Church and a host of Muslim fundamentalist groups. Both opposed any reference to abortion rights in the UN documents. Since Muslim jurisprudence has historically been tolerant of birth control methods, one wonders whether Islamist movements are learning new arguments from the Catholic Church or from Christian fundamentalist groups in the United States in their efforts to limit women's reproductive rights.[7]

There have been frequent reports of human rights violations against Sudanese women since the National Islamic Front (NIF), led from behind the scenes by the Sorbonne-educated theologian, Dr. Hasan al-Turabi, assumed power in a coup d'état in 1989. The process of Islamization and Arabization of Sudan, where the dissenting southern region of the country has a mix of Muslims, Christians, and followers of indigenous religions, and where the northern Muslim Sudanese have often embraced more tolerant Sufi expressions of Islam, is rigidly pursued. Large numbers of women in the legal and medical professions, and in the civil service have either been barred from work or placed under severe restrictions. Women who do not observe proper hijab are periodically rounded up, and their names broadcast on radio to further shame and humiliate them.[8]

On 27 September 1996, when the Afghan Taliban, whose activities have been backed by Pakistan and the United States, captured Kabul, their first decree was to close girls' schools and force women to stay home from work. This went far beyond the restrictions of the previous fundamentalist faction in power, the Mujahidin, or for that matter those of any other militant Islamist governments - including that of Iran. Similar measures were adopted in Herat and Jalalabad which had been earlier taken over by the Taliban. Women may not leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative, and then only with their bodies, including their faces, completely covered.[9] The fanatical government forbade surgeons from operating on members of the opposite sex, and called for stoning as the penalty for adultery. These actions prompted UN Secretary-General, Boutros Ghali, to call for a withdrawal of aid by UN agencies to Afghanistan if the Taliban did not end these extraordinary and discriminatory policies. The actions of the Taliban have provoked a deep sense of revulsion throughout much of the Muslim world. In Iran, even the militant cleric, Janati, who heads the Hezbullah Party of God, complained that the actions of the Taliban "were giving Islam a bad name".

In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the 1991 elections but was banned by the government in January 1992 and prevented from taking power. The FIS has unleashed a campaign of terror that has killed over 50,000 residents, and has targeted foreigners, those who attended French schools, feminists, and gays. The FIS has vowed, if it comes to power, to end women's employment, to make sexual relations outside marriage punishable by death, and to enforce the hijab. Since January 1992 several hundred women have been assassinated by the fundamentalists for not wearing a head scarf, for wearing Western clothing -- such as jeans – for working alongside men, or for living without a male guardian in their own apartments. Many more have been stabbed, raped or subjected to death threats for the same "violations", or for such offences as teaching boys in school and running hair salons. Algerian feminists have consistently protested these and other abuses. The regime itself has accommodated fundamentalist pressure, enacting the Family Code (1984) which allows men the right to divorce their wives for any reason, and to practice polygamy.[10] In recent years, the regime has permitted the emergence of a moderate Islamist party, the Islamic Movement of Society for Peace which won 69 seats in the controlled elections held in early June. It now holds posts in the government. Women have on occasion played a leading role in the opposition: the socialist-feminist Haroun was elected to the Assembly as a member of the Socialist Front, and is an opponent of both the regime and the integralists.

In Malaysia, the more liberal customary Malay laws dealing with marriage, divorce, and child custody have been replaced by the Islamic Shafi'i laws that oppose family planning policies and call for punishment in cases of "wilful disobedience by a woman of any order lawfully given by her husband". Religious law has once again sanctioned the marriage of young girls without their consent, and accepted repudiation of wives by husbands with impunity.[11]

Persecuting the Opposition

In Bangladesh, a state which was originally dedicated to the ideals of secularism and socialism during the period immediately after its independence from Pakistan in 1971, Islam was declared the state religion in 1988. Fundamentalist clerics, with backing from the government, have issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling for the death of the feminist Muslim writer and poet, Talisma Nasrin. She is the author of a popular novel, Shame (1993), in which she recounts the killing of Hindus by Muslim fundamentalists, and she has been accused of calling for the reform of the Qur'an.[12]

Even in predominantly Muslim societies where feminists have made some inroads, these gains have to be defended from continuous attack. Many literary works are denied publication in Egypt on the grounds that they violate religious, sexual, or moral taboos. At the plenary session of the 1993 annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association in North Carolina, Egyptian feminist writer and physician, Nawal el-Saadawi, announced that fundamentalists in both Egypt and Algeria had threatened to kill her. Saadawi's organization, the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, was banned by the Egyptian government in 1991 as a move to appease the fundamentalists. Some of her books remain banned in Egypt.

Other secular intellectuals have similarly been persecuted. In late 1995, Dr. Nasr Abu-Zeid, an Egyptian professor, was ordered to divorce his wife – also a university professor – because his writings smacked of "apostasy".[13] In Pakistan the respected poet and social campaigner, Akhtar Hamid Khan, known for his life-long support of family planning, education, and employment for impoverished women, was threatened with execution by both the government and the ulama. The 1979 Hudud Ordinance declared all sex outside marriage unlawful, practically eliminating the distinction between rape and extra-marital sex. It also sanctioned the flogging of accused women. Despite her promises, Benazir Bhutto, who was re-elected premier in 1993, did not during her abbreviated term of office take any major steps to reform laws that deny women's rights.[14]

In recent years, Turkish women have campaigned around the issue of domestic violence and helped to create shelters for battered women. They have formed consciousness-raising groups, and have discussed the limitations of legal reforms such as those introduced by Ataturk in the 1920s, and have demonstrated in the streets against sexual harassment. They have also become active in environmental issues. Additionally, feminists have set up women's coffee houses and have organized art exhibits. The Women's Library and Information Center, the first such centre devoted to feminist scholarship, was opened in Istanbul in April 1990. But Turkish feminists are extremely worried about the fundamentalist Islamic Welfare Party (RIFAH), which now heads the coalition government, fragile though that now seems, and they fear that the new government might try to dismantle Ataturk's secular reforms.[15]Followers of the Welfare Party claim to represent women's rights and direct their attacks at the objectification of women under Western-style capitalism. The fundamentalists' criticisms of pornography and prostitution, and the many free social services they provide for the community have helped to legitimate their claim that they represent issues of concern to women. Their outspoken challenge to industrial pollution has also gained them converts. A return to religious values, they insist, would solve the myriad social and economic problems of Turkish society.[16]

Palestinian women in the occupied territories became instrumental in forming decentralized popular committees once the Intifada was initiated in 1987. They also began to address women's issues. Debates on divorce, women's income, and greater respect for women continued to be aired during the Intifada. Many young women activists broke with earlier traditions of arranged and semi-arranged marriages, pursuing marriages based on individual choice. Others tried to remain politically involved even after marriage. This was a new phenomenon in a movement which had historically insisted that married women must leave the political organizations and instead give "sons to the resistance", and where the birth of boys was glorified under various names such as the "Palestinian womb", the "factory of men" or the "women's jihad".[17]

The Palestinian community took pride in the impressive role of Hanan Mikhail Ashwari, a feminist and professor of English at Bir Zeit University, who emerged as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian delegation to the 1993 Middle East peace talks. Ashwari was elected as an independent to the Palestinian legislature in January 1996 and was subsequently appointed Minister of Education in the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian leadership is divided, however, in its attitude towards women's rights and on women's place in the nationalist struggle. With the ascendancy of the religious right in Israel and the unravelling of the Oslo agreements, any accommodation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the fundamentalist group Hamas would surely mean greater limits on women. Hamas projects a theocratic and sex-segregated state as its ideal vision of a Palestinian society, one which undermines the basic civil rights of, not only women, but also of Christian Palestinians who have long been active in the resistance movement.[18] The above list could continue since a number of other nations such as Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia have also experienced the growing power of fundamentalism.[19]

Feminist Writing on the Roots of Fundamentalism

As the political discourse of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia became increasingly dominated by conservative Islamist arguments, a number of feminist thinkers and writers have tried to probe the contradictions of the region in an attempt to understand the underlying reasons for the growth of fundamentalism. These studies can be broadly divided into the following three categories:

1) The Political and Economic Explanation

Several sociologists and political scientists have discussed the rapid economic changes which have characterized the region in the period since World War II, changes which took place under secular and highly authoritarian governments.[20] Iranian sociologist, Valentine Moghadam, points out that in the 1960s and 1970s, improvements in health, at the start of the demographic transition in the Middle East and North Africa, led to an increasingly youthful population. At the same time, the fall in oil prices in the late 1970s, and the accompanying unemployment, increased the gap between the upper classes and the middle and lower-middle classes. A crisis of political legitimacy ensued in which the secular, authoritarian governments were attacked for corruption, continued subservience to Western powers, and especially for the propagation of supposedly immoral modernist values and institutions. This last point of contention was fuelled by the growth of women's education and employment. The fierce competition of the university entrance exams, and government civil service jobs, especially affected the lower-middle classes, who were the first generation of their families to attend colleges and universities. To pacify this angry and youthful population, and also to undermine the leftist and Marxist groups, the secular governments of the region, whether Anwar al-Sadat in Egypt, or Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, permitted and sometimes encouraged the activities of Islamist groups.[21]

Fatima Mernissi has focused on the economic and political problems that contributed to the growth of fundamentalism in North Africa.[22] She argues that the spread of fundamentalism in the last two decades has stemmed from the political and social failures of the secular, authoritarian states of the post-colonial period, states that operate within the rules of the International Monetary Fund and the interests of the imperialist powers.[23]

Mernissi also traces the development of Muslim fundamentalism among the urban lower-middle classes and university students - who make up the great majority of the movements' adherents - to factors such as rapid urbanization and mass education. The sharp increase in the number of educated and employed women, the fact that most women now delay marriage until their twenties, the greater authority women experience as a result of the earnings they bring home, the greater control they have gained over unwanted pregnancies, and the higher divorce rate, have all helped produce important changes in relations between the sexes.[24]

Given the limited opportunities for advanced education in most Third World countries, there is great competition between men and women for university placement and processional positions, adding fuel to an already explosive situation in predominantly Muslim countries. High unemployment rates in North African countries (in Algeria, the rate is close to 40 per cent) have only increased the tension. Many men, who have been stripped of their old identities as heads of the households and patriarchs, find the message of fundamentalist Muslim clerics and politicians quite appealing. As Mernissi argues: The hijab is manna from heaven for politicians facing crises. It is not just a scrap of cloth; it is a division of labour. It sends women back to the kitchen. Any Muslim state can reduce its level of unemployment by half just by appealing to the shari'a, in its meaning as despotic caliphal traditions. This is why it is important to avoid reducing fundamentalism to a handful of agitators who stage demonstrations in the streets. It must be situated within its regional and world economic context by linking it to the question of oil wealth and the New World Order that the Westerners propose to us.[25]

In her study of the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Sudan, Sondra Hale presents a similar analysis. She argues that a variety of economic and political factors, such as the emergence of multinational corporations, the uneven nature of economic development, and emigration as a result of high unemployment, have contributed to the "socio-political/economic crises which in turn have had a profound impact on gender arrangements". The process of "romanticizing" women's role in reproduction and the insistence of the NIF that women return to the home and take care of children and husbands can be viewed as an attempt to force women out of the labour process and to create jobs for lower-and-middle-class urban males, civil servants, and college instructors, in areas in which women have made significant inroads.[26]

The Economic Benefits of Getting Religion

Several writers have also pointed to the economic opportunities that fundamentalist institutions provide for believers, thus attracting women with low incomes and their families.[27] In oil-producing countries, wealthy supporters donate large sums as alms to these institutions, allowing them to engage in a wide range of charitable activities. The oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, also give large sums to these institutions in other countries, both openly and covertly. Naila Kabeer writes that in Bangladesh the fundamentalist organizations, with funding from Saudi Arabia, have established a large network of Islamic Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that provide students with a wide variety of educational assistance, from scholarships and vocational training to dormitories, jobs, and medical clinics. The same organizations train Muslim clerics to run the village administration, and to provide basic health care including pre-and post-natal care. These services are dispensed alongside a religious and ideological message which seeks to counter Western and modernist views. For example, the feminist literature in the West which emphasizes women's contribution to the household as a form of unpaid labour is adopted, but then a different conclusion is derived from this literature: that women, therefore, need not work outside the home because they already make substantial contributions at home.[28]

Andrea Rugh points out that in Egypt the services which the private mosques provide for the community are not only more reliable than government services but also contribute to the community's sense of dignity: Services may include the provision of subsidised clothing and food, health care, regular educational programs (usually at the pre-primary or primary level), after-school tutoring for children, religious instruction, subsidies for students, evening courses, social group activities, Qur'an reading sessions, and special programs for religious holidays. In poor areas, mosque representatives hand out free food, clothing, and money in exchange, as one poor woman put it, "for our wearing proper Islamic dress". Money can also be borrowed through Islamic banks in the approved "profit sharing" way where a fixed interest is not required.[29]

While these services bring new adherents, the truth remains that, despite their claims, none of the Islamist movements have been able to offer a viable solution to the overall economic problems of their societies. Decades ago, Maxime Rodinson had shown in his Islam and Capitalism that Islamist economic policies are no alternative to capitalist development.[30]

More recently, Iranian economist Sohrab Behdad has shown that if a utopian Islamic economic system ever were viable, it should have happened in Iran where every ideological, social, and economic condition was at its disposal. Instead corruption is rampant in the country, unemployment is above 20 per cent, the rhetoric of "the role of the oppressed" has been shelved and "a privileged class of clergy and their cronies, their sons, daughters, and other relatives, have replaced the privileged class that the revolution uprooted".[31] Continuing this line of thinking, Valentine Moghadam has argued that since Islamist governments in Sudan, Iran, and Pakistan were unable to prevent escalating and structural unemployment, to carry out a programme of wealth distribution, or even to reduce government corruption, they have instead focused on issues of family, culture, and law as the root causes of all social and economic problems.[32]

2) The Cultural Explanation: Modernization and the Family

A second argument that appears in writings about fundamentalism, including those on the American Protestant fundamentalist movement, is that women should not be viewed as passive and submissive objects who are coerced or simply duped into such movements. Fundamentalism is not simply "constructed by men and imposed on women", notes Julie Ingersoll.[33] Women are drawn to these movements because of their emphasis on family, and because fundamentalist organizations demand that both women and men place a higher priority on raising children and family relations in general. We are living in a world in which the requirements of capitalist development have placed an enormous strain on married life.

Husbands and wives often both work full time; there is appallingly inadequate childcare; there are frequent job losses and relocations; and to make ends meet couples often work much beyond the eight-hour day. The fundamentalist message, which appeals to a much "higher" authority than corporate owners and manufacturers, falls, therefore, on receptive ears. Women who generally hold low status jobs in the capitalist market, and are overburdened with responsibility for children as well as care for the elderly, may in fact, writes Helen Hardacre, make "conscious decision to use the fundamentalist message to secure the husband's loyalty and support of them and their children."[34]

Sociologist Deniz Kandiyoti, ethnologist Aihwa Ong, anthropologists Erika Friedl and Mary Hegland, and political scientist Cynthia Enloe have all, in their respective areas of research, emphasized the disruptive consequences of shifting gender roles in developing societies, especially changes in the family in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They suggest that we may be witnessing a growing interest in a return to a more traditional and seemingly secure patriarchal culture of the past in both women and men.[35]

Kandiyoti, a Turkish feminist, suggests that in Asian and Middle Eastern societies a tacit inter-generational agreement, a "patriarchal bargain", has historically helped to maintain the social structure. A young bride, who is deprived of inheritance rights in her father's house, acquiesces to her subservient position at the residence of her in-laws. She accepts her role and internalizes the patriarchal values because she anticipates a day when she herself may become the beneficiary of these traditions and could rule over her daughters-in-law. In the late twentieth century the process of modernization rapidly deprived this social bargain of its necessary economic foundation.[36] Once, however, the built-in insecurities of the capitalist structure and the nuclear family become more obvious - unemployment, lack of child care, or care for the elderly - both younger and older women grow more receptive to an ideology which calls for a return to the old patriarchal bargain in exchange for greater security.

Aihwa Ong probes into why many lower-middle class women have been attracted to the Islamist movement in Malaysia. She argues that the process of modernization has had a mixed impact insofar as women are concerned. It has given them greater economic and personal freedom, with paid employment, spending money, and the power accompanying it, but it has also resulted in men abandoning their customary obligations to the family. Given the inherent instability of the capitalist economy and continued exploitation by the West, as well as the economic recessions of the last two decades, which have hit many Third World countries especially hard, women who may not have long entered the labour market often finds themselves out of a job, and without the traditional support of the extended family or the community. Ong writes, "Land scarcity, widespread female wage labour, and secularization in many cases reduced men's customary obligations to be the sole supporter of their families".[37]

As Cynthia Enloe argues, "it isn't always obvious that surrendering the role of cultural transmitter or rejecting male protection will enhance a women's daily security, reduce her burdens".[38] The return to traditional and religious values may thus be attractive to the over-worked homemaker, worker, and mother who hopes that her husband and community assume a greater share of her burden. She is also more likely to turn to the religious foundations and their networks of social support. These associations have assumed the customary role as head of the patriarchal clan. They also act as family counsellors and help to end conflicts by advising women to be more subservient to their husbands, but they also ask men to uphold their traditional obligations to the family.

3) Veiling as Empowerment

A third group of feminist scholars has argued that women who join militant Islamist organizations do so not only because of the economic support they gain, or the pro-family message they cherish, but also because of the alternative social and political power and autonomy they gain in the movements. By donning the veil, young-lower-middle class women may lose many individual freedoms, but they gain access to public spaces, to employment, and can become valued and powerful members of political organizations that propagate the militant Islamist ideology. When a young girl adopts the hijab she becomes physically restrained in certain ways. She may not be able to climb a tree or ride a bicycle so easily. But she may also face a lesser degree of sexual harassment. She may gain the right from her traditional family to finish high school and even attend the university, to seek outside professional employment, to socialize with her peers in mass organizations that promote the Islamist ideology, and even to choose her own husband in these gatherings rather than submit to an arranged marriage. Those women who become active members of militant Islamist groups also gain power over other more secular women. They become the guardians of morality on the streets and public spaces. They abuse and arrest more upper-class secular women on charges of improper hijab and are tremendously feared in the community.

The Jordanian feminist, Lama Abu Odeh, writes of the problem of sexual harassment and the dilemma Middle Eastern women have faced ever since they unveiled in the early twentieth century. Negotiating the streets, using public transportation, and working side-by-side with men in offices and factories became ordeals for unveiled women. They found that their bodies were constantly under the intrusive gaze of men. In societies where sexual harassment and molestation of women - touching, fondling, stalking, and derogatory comments - are rampant on the streets, in buses, and in work places, unveiled women often have no recourse to law or higher authorities. Even worse, they themselves are held responsible for the harassment they endure.[39] Under such circumstances, the veil can offer women a certain degree of physical protection. A veiled woman is seldom harassed in public and if she is, she can loudly appeal to the chivalry and religiosity of the men around her who would almost certainly come to her help.

The Syrian feminist, Bouthaina Shaaban, who has studied the personal lives of Lebanese, Palestinian, Algerian, and Syrian women, is particularly effective in showing the appeal of Muslim fundamentalism to lower-class single women. Shaaban shows how adherence to the Islamist dress code provides a new public space for young women in traditionally segregated societies. In one case study we read about Zeinab, a single woman from a working-class district with a university education, who has joined the Shi'ite fundamentalist organization Amal in southern Lebanon. She explains how her activity with Amal, and her wearing of the prescribed outfit, al-Shari, have given her both protection and increased freedom of action. She feels safe from harassment, and considers herself a productive member of society, helping to feed and shelter the poor. Above all, she has gained greater respect, power, and authority: "My father who used to be the only supreme authority in the house, never takes any decisions now concerning the family without consulting me first.[40] Zainab can stay out until eleven o'clock at night doing organizational work without her parents questioning her. She has this liberty in a society where even grandmothers cannot stay out late for fear of what the neighbours might say.

There is considerable disagreement among feminist writers on the actual liberatory potentialities that donning the veil provides. Leila Ahmed, for example, draws on a study of 400 veiled and unveiled women at Cairo University which shows that there is a direct correlation between the hijab and the economic level of the female students. Those with lower-class parents are more likely to adopt the veil. She thus concludes that the veil is not a social innovation but a sign of conformity to the social class from which these upwardly mobile young women have emerged. The veil certainly saves young women from the expenses of acquiring many fashionable outfits. But joining the Islamist groups also carries "the comfort of bringing the values of home and childhood to the city and its foreign and morally overwhelming ways.[41]

While Ahmed recognizes the severe limitations that have been imposed on women in countries where fundamentalists have entered the government or gained substantial power, she nevertheless believes that the new practice of veiling serves as a transition process for lower-class women. In Ahmed's view, some of the goals of secular and upper class Egyptian feminists, who were the first generation to demand women's entry into the universities and professional employment, are now pursued in a different ways by the middle- and lower-middle-class women. The new hijab, in her view, marks a "broad demographic change - a change that has democratised mainstream culture".[42]

The Veil and Menial Work

Anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod takes issue with Leila Ahmed on this point. She argues that since Islamist movements are unwilling or incapable of carrying out a serious programme of redistributing wealth, they have instead attempted to construct the illusion of equality through the imposition of the veil. She asks why "a political discourse in which morality displaces class as the central social problem is so appealing?"[43]

Arlene MacLeod points to the alienating nature of the labour most women perform. Using Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, she argues that, where Islamist movements oppose the state, the wearing of the veil is neither a sign of victimization and subordination, nor is it an expression of "false consciousness". Rather it is a measure of women's alienation from modernization and its false promises. The subordinated lower classes are neither forced not completely duped into accepting regulations and restrictions. MacLeod describes the difficult lives of women who take care of their families and work for a living. She shows how demoralized these women become when they realize that the jobs they so much fought for at home are so repetitive and uncreative. Most lower middle- class women who have entered civil service jobs find their work "boring and unchallenging", as well as "useless".[44] These ambitious women have few options but to work for the public sector which provides them with jobs, but allows them no true initiative or creativity. Thus, women suffer from a gender division of labour which assigns them to low-status jobs, a class division which limits them to repetitive and boring work, and an economic straight-jacket which obliges them to work outside the home in a culture which sees women's primary role to be in the home. Women who lack viable and tangible alternatives and who have come to view Western women as sex objects because of the popular media, have, therefore, turned to traditional alternatives to gain some measure of control over their lives.[45]

MacLeod speaks of the veil as a conscious symbol of resistance in an Arab society where women work outside the home. But choice involves having access to information and real options. MacLeod says nothing about the fundamentalist message that male sexuality is by nature "uncontrollable", that women "induce" inappropriate male sexual behaviour. Likewise, she glosses over the vast unemployment and the pressures of women to return to the home so that more jobs are opened for men. The questions remain: to what extent does the wearing of the hijab empower young students and professional women? What does it mean if you choose your own husband but are then denied the right to divorce, to child custody, or to a fair share of the property you and your husband have acquired during the life of your marriage? How free is a woman who goes to the university and seeks employment but is then deprived of a choice of a career by her husband? How much autonomy does a veiled woman have when the very acceptance of the veil means approval of gender segregation, and the admission that a woman is first and foremost a sexual object? What does it mean when the burden of avoiding sexual harassment is placed on women, while men are seen as impulsive creatures with little or no control over their sexual desires? Further, what kind of freedom is this when governments sanction homophobia and severely persecute homosexuals?

These and other questions indicate that while young unmarried women may gain some control over their lives through wearing the hijab, or find temporary solutions to the problems of sexual harassment and other issues facing them in modern society, donning the hijab is by no means a serious step toward resolution of these problems. In the late twentieth century, emancipation for women means the free exercise of body and mind, ending degrading traditions that limit women's choices, and enabling women to pursue alternative lifestyle. There can be no emancipation when women are deemed inferior and different beings by virtue of their biology.

A New Feminist Discourse on Islam in Iran

While feminist issues are more easily articulated in a progressive, democratic, and secular society, the serious efforts of feminists who live under Islamist regimes and hope to bring about a more egalitarian society cannot be dismissed because they are not expressed in a secular discourse.

In contrast to countries such as Algeria where fundamentalists are in violent opposition, or in Afghanistan where extreme fundamentalists have only recently assumed power, the fundamentalist government in Iran has been in power since 1979. As a result of popular disillusionment with the system, a new and democratic discourse on Shi'ite Islam is gradually and painstakingly taking shape within the opposition. The most well-known advocate of this new school is the German-educated philosopher and theologian Dr. Abd al-Karim Surush. A former IRP ideologue, now he is regularly harassed by Hezbullah goons. Surush peppers his pleas for a more democratic and tolerant interpretation of Muslim jurisprudence before hundreds of enthusiastic university students with references to European thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Karl Popper, and Erich Fromm.[46]

But it is the Iranian women's journal Zanan which has taken up the even more difficult task of developing a new feminist interpretation of Shi'ite Islamic laws and is aided in this by a group of progressive educators, lawyers, and theologians, both women and men.[47] Zanan, which began publication in 1991, is edited by the feminist Shahla Sherkat and is part of a growing effort by women writers, filmmakers, academics, artists, and other professional women, who have reclaimed some of the rights and organizations that they had developed before the 1979 Revolution. By Western standards Zanan, which could be shut down by the government at any time, is a curious publication. There are regular features that would appear in a popular women's magazine on such topics as food, diet, health and exercise, fashion, family psychology, science and medicine. But Zanan is also a literary and cultural magazine with an explicitly feminist agenda.

They are detailed reviews of films, poems, and short stories produced by Iranian women. Recent books by and about women are regularly featured. There are also translations of classic feminist essays by authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Evelyn Reed, Nadine Gordimer, Alison Jaggar, and more recent articles by contemporary feminist writers from the US magazine MS in which feminist perspectives and politics are defined and explicitly defended.[48] Zanan regularly features original sociological studies on working women and is trying to start the first shelter for battered women in the country.

Rereading the Qur'an

But, more importantly for our purposes, the journal has embarked upon a meticulous re-examination of the shariat in light of feminist issues. The shariat is the code of laws, close to 1,400 years old, which determines what actions of the umma (community of believers) are regarded by God as obligatory, recommended, neutral, objectionable, or forbidden. The Twelve Shi'ite jurisprudence practised in Iran is derived from the Qur'an, the Traditions attributed to the prophet Muhammad, and the accounts attributed to the Twelve Shi'ite Imams. In contrast to most Sunni schools, Shi'ism gives greater recognition to the authority of living mujtahids, legal and theological scholars, whose training has qualified them to render judgement on contemporary issues.[49] There is a long-standing tradition of reading and reinterpreting both the Qur'an and the accounts attributed to Muhammad and various Imams in the light of contemporary social and political realities. Feminist theologians and legal scholars who have entered these debates demonstrate a remarkable familiarity with such arguments. While many Qur'anic laws on women and family call for a more conservative regulation of gender relations, others can be found that uphold the matrilineal and matrilocal traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia of the seventh century CE.[50]

In deconstructing the text and re-examining the narratives which form Islamic jurisprudence, feminist scholars also employ a series of reputable and acknowledged strategies to their advantage. Qur'anic verses and narratives that suggest a more egalitarian treatment of women are highlighted. Those which call for restrictions on women's actions are reinterpreted. Often a word has multiple meanings and a less restrictive synonym can be adopted. Since stories attributed to the prophet Muhammad (hadiths) and many of those attributed to the Imams (ravayats) were not written down until much later, a chain of reporters known as isnad exists for each account. The strength of a narrative is based on the reliability of the transmitters of that story, much like the task of footnotes in Western scholarship. A weak link, a reporter with a reputation for unreliability, could weaken the entire chain and make the story suspect.[51] As the following two examples demonstrate feminist scholars showed that they could use such strategies to buttress innovation, just as fundamentalist theologians had done.

In an essay entitled, "Man: Partner or Boss?", Shekufeh Shokri and Sahereh Labirz argue that Islam does not privilege men over women because of their biology and that, therefore, it is not "sexist". The only distinction that can be found among Muslims in the Qur'an is between the pious and the impious. To prove their point they turn to chapter 49/verse 13 of the Qur'an which says: "O mankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely the noblest of you with Allah is the most pious of you...".[52] Having argued that God privileges only the most pious and knowledgeable human beings, the two writers conclude that "if a woman were more knowledgeable and more scholarly than a man", surely she would be regarded in higher esteem in God's eyes.

They then return to an earlier verse in the Qur'an (chapter 4 /verse 34) which says, "Men are custodians [qavuamun] of women, with what Allah has made some to excel over others, and with what they spend out of their wealth".[53] This verse is commonly used by conservative male theologians to argue that God has elevated men over women. The feminist theologians tackle this verse from several different angles. They argue that a better translation for the word "custodian" is "initiator in affairs". The word "custodian" implies that women are minors whose affairs should be regulated by men, but "initiators in affairs" points to a man's responsibility to provide for his family without, it is claimed, having the parallel degrading view of women. The authors then present the more audacious argument that because of numerous changes in present-day society such as women's education and employment, and their participation in politics, economics, and even war, new and more egalitarian interpretations of Islamic doctrines must be adopted. Finally, they conclude that Article 1105 of the Iranian civil code, which designates husbands as heads of households and establishes an unequal conjugal relation between husband and wife, is contrary to Islamic doctrine. Since the Qur'an recognizes only piety as a matter of hierarchy, not gender or race, the Iranian civil code which purports to base itself on Islamic doctrines is in fact un-Islamic and inaccurate and should be changed.[54]

In another article, entitled "Women as Justices of the Court", Mina Yadgar Azadi writes that chapter 33/verse 33 in the Qur'an which reads, "And stay in your houses and display not your beauty like the displaying of the ignorance of yore. . .[55] has been used to argue that women should not hold the prominent social position of a judge. Azadi rebuts the interpretation of this verse in three different ways. She argues that the verse addresses only Mohammed's wives and not other women. Further, even if it were addressing all women, it should at most be considered a recommendation not an obligation upon women, since no religious scholar has ever ruled for women's seclusion at all times. Finally, she argues that if this verse were indeed carried out, women of all professions including teachers, nurses, and doctors would be prohibited from working. Hence, why invoke the verse when the debate is about reinstating women as judges in Iranian courts, but not at other times?[56]

These and other arguments may not seem radically egalitarian from a secular feminist perspective, but they have an impact on the public as well as many clerics. The state, after all, draws the legitimacy for its conservative patriarchal politics from the same sources. Women have now entered the debate and have proven knowledgeable about minute theological issues.

They have become capable of demonstrating ambiguities and multiple meanings in Qur'anic verses and other texts, and are trained as theologians in major religious centres. These facts are in some ways more significant than the substance of the argument. They mean that feminist theologians and legal experts have to be taken seriously and that they have opened a breach in conservative ideology at a time when there was anyway popular dissatisfaction with the heavy-handed patriarchy of the Islamist regime.

Indeed theology is not the only male-dominated domain in which Iranian feminists have made some inroads. They have also been active in politics. In spring 1996, the fifth round of elections to the parliament resulted in the election of Fa'ezeh Hashemi, the former President's daughter. Hashemi, who was elected with over 850,000 votes, apparently received the highest number of votes of any candidates from Tehran, though official tallies subsequently demoted her to second place.

An accomplished athlete in a variety of fields including riding and water-skiing, Hashemi, who is in her late thirties, is unlike anything the Islamic Republic of Iran propagates as the image of the subservient Iranian woman. She founded the Iranian Federation of Women's Sports, and heads the country's Olympic Committee. She is married to a psychologist and is pursuing an advanced degree in international law. In a recent interview, Hashemi admitted that most family responsibilities, including the care of their two children, were shouldered by her husband, and that she was not even aware of current food prices in the market. What she is aware of is the bias against women in society and in public television, where working women are always demonized and home-makers are presented as obedient women who serve tea.

Hashemi wants new legislation that would address the unequal treatment of women under the law, that would push for greater education for women, more participation in top-level management positions, and more involvement in national sports. This last issue caused a great brouhaha when Hashemi called for the construction of bike paths in Tehran for the use of both men and women. Several leading clerics issued fatwas against women cyclists claiming that the sight of such women out and about in Tehran would be too erotic. While the degree of Hashemi's commitment and her ability to bring about these reforms remain to be seen, she has received much support from Zanan and other women's publications.[57]

The May 1997 election of President Mahammad Khatami may strengthen the voices of women like Hashemi and journals such as Zanan which supported him. Khatami, who speaks three foreign languages and teaches university courses on Islamic reform movements, was Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance from 1982 to 1992. He was ousted from that position because he gradually adopted a more moderate view on social and cultural issues and would not strictly enforce the censorship laws. Khatami is certainly not an opponent of the government. He was one of four candidates - out of 238 - who were handpicked by the Council of Guardians and allowed to run for election. Nevertheless, he was allowed to do so only two weeks before the elections, in order to give a greater semblance of democracy to the process.

The clerical establishment, which runs the government, and the grand ayatollahs all backed the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, who was expected to win with a comfortable majority. Once Khatami campaigned on a platform of curbing censorship, fighting fanaticism and calling for greater tolerance on social and cultural issues, however, his candidacy was embraced by much of the public. Of 33 million eligible voters, 29 million (88 per cent) voted, an unprecedented number in Iranian elections. 20 million votes (70 per cent) went to Khatami, who did equally well in cities and in villages. Word of mouth that Khatami would adopt a more liberal stance on gender relations and that he wished to remove the severe censorship on the media and the ban on satellite dishes, and that he advocated a more tolerant interpretation of Islam, one that "was opposed to oppression and coercion", brought women and young people on to the street to vote for him in overwhelming numbers.

Following the elections, Fa'ezeh Hashami demanded that Khatami show his gratitude towards the women who helped elect him by appointing women to his cabinet - a request he was to respond to - while others have called for wide-ranging reform of laws that deprive women of rights, especially in matters of divorce and custody of children. It remains to be seen whether the new president is willing and able to carry out such reforms, or if his opponents in government - who include most members of Parliament, and who harassed him and his supporters during the election - will prevail. Even so, the vast majority of Iranians voted for a change and to an end to the strict rule of the Islamist government which can no longer claim a public mandate.

Toward A New Politics

As has been argued in this article, the emergence of Muslim fundamentalism is a complicated phenomenon stemming in part from the crisis of capitalist development and modernization in the Third World. Muslim fundamentalism has been difficult to confront, not only because in the seminaries and in the mosques it has an organization with ample financial backing and, at times, state support, but also because the fundamentalists speak to many urgent economic, social, and cultural needs.

At least three sets of illusions have fuelled the intensity with which some women and men in the region have embraced the fundamentalism cause:

That an Islamist economy would remove the country from the orbit of the IMF and the imperialist powers; provide the necessary health and social services that corrupt, authoritarian governments have all but ignored; solve the problems of high unemployment and under-employment; and offer the male heads of households both better educational opportunities and a more generous income for their families.

That the "higher" authority of religion would slow down the capitalist and modernist onslaught on the private domain; that an Islamist government would bring back traditional social relationships, the collective and personal loyalties and obligations which maintained the cohesiveness of the community; and that the old patriarchal bargain could be reinstated, enabling women to devote their time and energy to their families and also feel secure about their husband's loyalty and support.

Finally that the veil and self-imposed rules of chastity would empower women; solve the persuasive problems of sexual harassment and molestation on the streets and in the workplaces; and thus pose an alternative to the much-maligned Western and secular model of feminist empowerment.

The way to challenge such illusions is not to move away from a progressive feminist agenda. Feminism is the response of fundamentalism, which is why fundamentalists have waged a war against feminism. But to be more effective, a new feminist politic must become indigenous to the region and permeate both the economic and ideological domains. To prevent the Islamists from driving a wedge between middle- and upper-class advocates of women's rights and others, including working-class and rural woman, feminists ought to pursue a three-pronged policy in conjunction with educators, journalists, the democratic Left, labour, and other grassroots activists.

1. Modernization without grassroots democracy or autonomy for the fledgling institutions of civil society, rapid economic development and high productivity without concern for workers' welfare and care of the environment, and increased integration of women into the capitalist economy without providing alternative institutions that would shoulder women's traditional responsibilities to their homes and communities, have contributed to the growth of fundamentalism everywhere. One answer, therefore, is to call for a lessening of the burdens of the overworked mother and homemaker. A shorter working week that would allow more time for families; improved health care and working conditions; reduction in environmental pollution; high quality and affordable child care centres - such as those in France and Japan that are used by all classes; facilities for the care of the elderly, would be essential steps in this direction. It is important that feminists put forward such issues at a time when their opponents seek to portray them as part of a rich Westernized elite having nothing to say to ordinary women.

2. Equally important is for advocates of women's rights to call for a feminist education, one that aims at the empowerment of young girls and social awareness among young boys from the elementary schools to the college and university levels. Such a feminist education ought to be pursued, insofar as political conditions permit, in both Muslim countries and in exile communities across Europe and the United States. Ever since the late nineteenth century, intellectuals in exile have had a profound impact on political and ideological movements in their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and feminists need to take more advantage of such opportunities. Pedagogical strategies that focus on global and comparative feminist perspectives, that show the pervasive and systematic abuse of women in all cultures and throughout history, and also elaborate on the global struggles for women's rights, offer the greatest possibility of success. To avoid the charge by fundamentalists and others that feminism is a tool of imperialist governments, a feminist education should begin with a comparative view that focuses on the subordinate role of women in all major religions (not just Islam), move on, for example, to a discussion of the chastity belts that the European Crusaders forced on their wives when they went off to fight Muslims in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, and continue with a discussion of European witch hunts by the Catholic Church, up through the job discrimination, sexual violence, and the abusive relationship that so many women in the West face today. After such an introduction, it would be more acceptable to speak of issues that affect the lives of women who live under Muslim law, issues such as women's poor health and diet, lack of exercise, denial of women's sexuality and reproductive rights, unfair divorce laws, lack of common property in marriage, cruel custody laws that tear young children from their mothers, and the need for legal, cultural, and religious reforms. Such debates must enter the mainstream through textbooks, storybooks, newspaper columns and cartoons, television and radio shows, as well as films and plays.

3. The work of individuals and institutions that are dedicated to developing an indigenous expression of Muslim feminism must be encouraged. This includes individuals such as Fatima Mernissi of Morocco who, together with a number of colleagues, is working on a project entitled "Humanist Islam" that plans to publish verses from the Qur'an and Traditions of the Prophet that are sympathetic to women's rights.[58] It also includes journals such as Zanan in Iran and al-Raida in Lebanon, or institutions such as [the International solidarity network] Women Living Under Muslim Laws, and the US organizations The Association for Middle East Women's Studies, and Sisterhood Is Global.[59] A more progressive and feminist interpretation of Muslim law is gradually gaining ground through the collective efforts of these and other individuals and institutions. Such developments are an important step toward undermining fundamentalism.

They should be supported by secular feminists, although the latter should never give up their own right to address all major issues confronting women, including religion. These and other efforts by feminists offer hope for an alternative future for the region, one in which emancipatory rather than reactionary politics might come once again to the fore. This time, however, in their alliance with other progressive movements, women must never again subordinate their own demands or organizational independence to nationalist, leftist, or democratic political parties.

Source: This article was first published in the New Left Review 224 (July - August 1997) pp. 89-110, and is reprinted with permission of the editors.


[1] A version of this article was presented at the 1997 annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New York. I am grateful for many helpful comments and suggestions by Kevin Anderson, Robin Blackburn, Sondra Hale, Valentine Moghadam, Claire Moses, Rayna Rapp, and especially Nikki Keddie on various drafts of this article.

[2] For the first view, see Linda J. Nicholson, ed., Feminism/Postmodernism, London 1990, pp. 1-16, and Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, eds. Feminists Theorize the Political, London 1992; for the second view, see Nancy C. M. Hartsock, Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women? in Nicholson, Feminism/Postmodernism, pp. 157-75, and Caroline Ramazanoglu, ed., Up Against Foucault, London 1993.

[3] I would like to stress that these three categories are not mutually exclusive, and that some authors have utilized two or all three approaches. My classification here is based on the authors' emphases.

[4] See Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., The Fundamentalism Project: Fundamentalisms Observed, Vol. I, Chicago I99I, pp. IX-X. Bernard Lewis prefers the term "fundamentalism" because use of the terms "Islamic" or "Islamist" to identify such movements implies that "this is what the Islamic religion and civilization is about". See "Unentretien avec Bernard Lewis", Le Monde, 16 November 1993; see also Henry Munson, Jr., Islam and Revolution in the Middle East, New Haven 1988, pp. 3-4, and Nikki Keddie's forthcoming essay "Women, Gender, and Fundamentalism", which she kindly shared with me.

[5] See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, New York 1993, p. 375-7. See also John Esposito, "Secular Bias and Islamic Revivalism", Chronicle of Higher Education, 26 May 1993, p. 44. I have used the terms "fundamentalism" and "Islamism" for the conservative movements, but not the term "Islamic", leaving space for other more democratic interpretations of Islam to be discussed later.

[6] For a summary of these policies, see Nayereh Tohidi, "Gender and Islamic Fundamentalism: Feminist Politics in Iran", in C. Mohanty, A. Russo and L. Torres, eds, Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Bloomington 1991, pp. 251-65; Azadeh Kian, "Gendered Occupation and Women's Status in Post-Revolutionary Iran", Middle East Studies, vol. 31, No.3, July 1995, pp. 407-21. For the more recent reforms in family law, see Shala Haeri, "Obedience Versus Autonomy: Women and Fundametalism in Iran and Pakistan", The Fundamentalist Project: Fundamentalisms and Society, No.2, 1993, pp. 181-213; and N. Ramazani, "Women in Iran: The Revolutionary Ebb and Flow", in US-Iran Review: Forum on American-Iranian Relations, vol. I, No.7, October 1993, pp. 8-9.

[7] On contraceptive methods in pre-modern Arab societies, see B. F. Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam, Cambridge, 1989. On the debates at the Cairo conference, see "Vatican Seeks Islamic Allies in UN Population Dispute", New York Times, 18 August 1994, p. 1.

[8] See Ali A. Abbas, "The National Islamic Front and the Politics of Education", MERIP, September-October 1991, pp. 23-5; Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), 6 July 1992; Manahil A. Salam, "Islamic Fundamentalist Rule is a Setback to Women's Progress in the Sudan", paper presented at the Purdue Women's Symposium, Fall 1995.

[9] See Elaine Sciolino, "The Many Faces of Islamic Law", New York Times, 13 October 1996, p. 4. Fred Halliday, "Kabul's Patriarchy with Guns", The Nation, 11 November 1996, pp. 19-22. Fr a discussion of the Mujahidin's opposition to female education, see Valentine M. Moghadam, Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East, Boulder 1993, pp. 207-47.

[10] See "Algeria Again at the Crossroads", Middle East International, 24 January 1992, p. 3; Le Nouvel Observateur, 15 January 1992; Anis, "Un homosexuel algérien à Paris", Le Monde, 22 June 1996, p. 15; Karima Bennoune, "Algerian Women Confront Fundamentalism", Monthly Review, vol. 46, No.4, November, pp. 26-39.

[11] Maznah Mohamad, "Islam, the Secular State and Muslim Women in Malaysia", WLUML, Dossier 5/6, 1989, pp. 13-19.

[12] See "Man sukut nakhvaham kard", Kayan (London), 6 January 1993; Naila Kabeer, "The Quest for National Identity: Women, Islam and the State of Bangladesh", in Deniz Kandiyoti, ed., Women, Islam and the State, Philadelphia 1991, pp. 115-43.

[13] Al-Jadid, No.2, December 1995, pp. 16-17.

[14] See WLUML, 27 October 1992; "Pakistani Crusader vs. the Mullahs", New York Times, 10 August 1992. See also Paula R. Newberg, "The Two Benazir Bhuttos", New York Times, 11 February 1995, p. 5.

[15] 15. See "Turkish Women and the Welfare Party", Middle East Report (MERIP), Spring 1996, pp. 28-32.

[16] See Nukhet Sirman, "Feminism in Turkey: a Short History", in New Perspectives on Turkey, vol. 3, No.1, Fall 1989, pp. 1-34.

[17] See Rosemary Sayigh, "Palestinian Women: Triple Burden, Single Struggle", Palestine Profile of an Occupation, London 1989; Islah Jad, "From the Salons to the Popular Committees, Palestinian Women, 1919-1989", in Jamal R. Nassar and Roger Heacock, eds, Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads, New York 1990; Rita Giacaman and Penny Johnson, "Palestinian Women: Building Barricades and Breaking Barriers", in Zachary Lochman and Joel Beinin, eds, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli occupation, Boston 1989, pp. 155-69.

[18] This point was eloquently discussed by a long time Palestinian activist Rabab Abduladi at the 1993 meeting of the Association for Middle East Women's Studies at Triangle Park, North Carolina.

[19] For example, see "For Another Kind of Morocco: An Interview with Abraham Serfaty", MERIP, November-December 1992, pp. 24-27.

[20] Moghadam, Modernizing Women; Saad Eddin Ibrahim, "Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups", International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 12, No. 4, 1980, pp. 423-53.

[21] See Moghadam, Modernizing Women, p. 137.

[22] Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, Bloomington 1987, second edition.

[23] Fatima Mernissi, Doing Daily Battle: Interview with Moroccan Women, New Jersey, 1989, pp. 3-4.

[24] Mernissi, Beyond the Veil, pp. VII-XV.

[25] Mernissi, Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World, Wokingham 1992, p. 165.

[26] Sondra Hale, "Gender, Religious Identity, and Political Mobilization in Sudan", in V. Moghadam, ed., Identity Politics and Women, Boulder 1994, pp. 145-66.

[27] "Women Regain a Kind of Security in Islam's Embrace", New York Times, 27 December 1992.

[28] Kabeer, "The Quest for National Identity", pp. 134-5.

[29] Andrea B. Rugh, "Reshaping Personal Relations in Egypt", in The Fundamentalist Project: Fundamentalism and Society, p. 164.

[30] Maxime Rodinson, Islam and Capitalism, Austin 1978 (first edition, 1966).

[31] See Sohrab Behdad, "A Disputed Utopia; Islamic Economics in Revolutionary Iran", Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 36, No.4, October 1994, p. 810.

[32] Moghadam, Modernizing Women, p. 167.

[33] See Julie J. Ingersoll, "Which Tradition, Which Values? "Traditional Family Values" in American Protestant Fundamentalism, Contention, vol. 4, No.2, Winter 1995, p. 93. See also Helen Hardacre, "The Impact of Fundamentalisms on Women, the Family, and Interpersonal Relations", The Fundamentalism Project, pp. 129-50.

[34] Hardacre, "The Impact of Fundamentalisms on Women", p. 142.

[35] The two essays by Hegland and Friedl appear in N. Keddie and B. Baron, eds, Women in Middle Eastern History, New Haven 1991. Others will be cited below.

[36] D. Kandiyoti, "Bargaining with Patriarchy", Gender and Society, vol. 2, No.3, 1988, pp. 274-90.

[37] Aihwa Ong, "State Versus Islam: Malay Families, Women's Bodies, and the Body Politic in Malaysia", American Ethnologist, vol. 17, No.2, May 1990, p. 269. For a recent reaction by progressive Malay women such as Sisters in Islam, see "Blame Men, Not Allah, Islamic Feminists Say", New York Times, 10 October 1996, p. 4.

[38] Cynthia Enloe, Making Feminist Sense of International Politics: Bananas, Beaches, and Bases, Berkeley 1989, p. 55.

[39] See Lama Abu Odeh, "Post-Colonial Feminism and the Veil: Thinking the Difference", Feminist Review, No.43, Spring 1993, pp. 26-37.

[40] Bouthaina Shaaban, Both Right and Left Handed, Bloomington 1991, p. 85.

[41] Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, New Haven 1992, pp. 222-3.

[42] Ibid., p. 225.

[43] Lila Abu-Lughod, "Movie Stars and Islamic Moralism in Egypt", Social Text, No.42, Spring 1995, p. 53.

[44] See Arlene Elowe MacLeod, "Hegemonic Relations and Gender Resistance: The New Veiling as Accommodating Protest in Cairo", Signs, vol. 17, No.3, Spring 1992, p. 546.

[45] Ibid., p. 555.

[46] Surush's writings appear regularly in the Kiyan. Judith Miller, who has visited the offices of Kiyan in Tehran and has interviewed scores of other progressive writers and clerics, writes that "despite what Iran has endured, it remains a vibrant society - far more than it ever was under the Shah and more so than any of its Arab neighbours." She suggests that an "Islamic reformation" may very well be part of Iran's future. See her God Has Ninety-Nine Names, New York 1996, p. 431. Arguments similar to those of Surush have also been raised by the Syrian writer Muhammad Shahrur who has been greeted enthusiastically by many secular Arab intellectuals. See Dale F. Eickelman, "Islamic Liberalism Strikes Back", MESA Bulletin, vol. 27, No.2, December 1993, pp. 163-7.

[47] I should point out that in recent months the Western media has paid much attention to the army of Mujahidin that sits on the border between Iran and Iraq, and includes many women in its officer corps. Some Western analysts have suggested that the Mujahidin represent a progressive and feminist alternative to the government of the Islamic Republic. See for instance Barry Iverson, "Women's Army Takes on the Mullahs", The Sunday Times, 27 April 1997, p. 19. The Mujahidin are, however, highly discredited in the eyes of many Iranians - both inside and outside the country - because of their authoritarian and indeed cultist Islamist beliefs, and because they are fully maintained by Iran's arch enemy, Saddam Hussein.

[48] For two recent examples see a selection of Jaggar's Feminist Politics and Human Nature in Zanan, No. 26, Mehr/Aban 1374/Fall 1995, pp. 48-51; and "What is Feminism", in Zanan, No. 28, Farvardin 1375 Spring/1996, pp. 2-3.

[49] For a discussion of the shariat and sources of the Islamic law under Shi'ism see Arthur Goldschmidt, A Concise History of the Middle East, Boulder 1983, pp. 93-9; and Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam, Chicago 1984.

[50] For further discussion on this issue, see Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, pp. 41-78.

[51] Goldschmidt, A Concise History of the Middle East, p. 95.

[52] The Holy Qur'an, Colombus 1991, p. 979. Here and below, I have slightly modified the English translation for greater clarity.

[53] Ibid., pp. 199-200.

[54] See "Man, Partner or Boss?" in Zanan, No.2, 1992, p. 27.

[55] The Holy Qur'an, p. 808.

[56] See "Women as Judges", Zanan, No. 4, Ordibehesht 1371/Spring 1992, pp. 20-26, and Zanan, No. , Khordad & Tir 1371/Summer 1992, pp. 20-26. See also the essays by Mehrangiz Kar.

[57] For a recent interview with Hashemi, see Zanan, No.28, Favardin 1375/Spring 1996.

[58] See the interview with Mahnaz Afkhami in the Summer/Fall 1996 issue of the Lebanese journal al-Raida, pp. 13-18.

[59] The most recent publication of Sisterhood Is Global is an handbook Claiming Our Rights: A Manual For Women's Human Rights Education in Muslim Societies, Bethseda, Maryland 1996.