Amina Wadud

Keynote Address:
Reformist Islam, Gender and the Questions of Authority

This paper will focus on the contributions made by Islamic feminism to the discourses over authority in Islam. In the classical traditions, authority was granted exclusively to men. Sometimes, this was intentional but most often it resulted from certain male privileges encoded in the terms constructed to determine who has the power to assert their definitions both of Islam in general and of authority within Islam. It is easy enough to point out the disjuncture between qualifications that are in fact, quantitative and thus can be acquired by both women and men and the tendencies to ignore these qualifications when they adhere to a woman. Then she is denied equal authority to men and even above them. To understand authority, this paper will examine not only the rubric of knowledge but also knowledge acquisition, or Ways of Knowing. Who is the Knower? What must s/he know in order to be considered knowledgeable and even authoritative? How much of male experience is encoded into our tacit understanding of and deference to those in whom we place our authority? Finally this paper will propose an option towards democratization of authority, in an effort and mandate to re-distribute authority to all citizens. All policies that govern such citizens must both be constructed based on their experienced realties and must be of equal merit in the lives of those over whom such policies will govern. Of particular interest is the tendency of gender asymmetry in Muslim Personal Status Law. I will explore the methodology and practical efforts of the Musawah movement to achieve gender equality and reciprocity in the Muslim family.