Can feminism and Islam coexist? What role do women play in a religious view of humanity? How does one create an egalitarian society? Etin Anwar, assistant professor of religious studies, attempts to unravel these topics and others in her new book, “Gender and Self in Islam.”
Anwar uses the book to tackle tough questions about gender equality and Islam; and she delves into the methods that might succeed in bringing about an egalitarian change.
This transformation requires two efforts: first, reform of a nation’s judicial and legal system to respect individuals equally; second, cultural change through religious and social means. As Anwar points out, no matter how egalitarian a country’s judicial system, the advancement of true equality requires a culture that embraces these forward-thinking ideals.
“Along with the Muslim community, the state must take a role in regulating equality,” Anwar said. “But if this fails to reach the grassroots, you are not accomplishing much.”
Religion plays a key role in this transformation, because it can effect cultural and social change at the popular level. For Muslims, this means a through rethinking of the religious underpinnings of gender equality. “Humans are equal before God,” Anwar said, “but the existing sexual division of labor in the Muslim societies subdues the equality advocated by the Qur’an. Muslims need to reinterpret the Qur’an and decide in what way the Qur’an could function as moral guidance.”
Anwar’s book is different from many other texts on gender and Islam for two reasons. First, Anwar’s approach focuses on the powerful religious subtext of gender identity, especially as it relates to the development of women. Her emphasis on Qur’anic study flows from her “lived experience” as a Muslim. The Qur’an is “the book rooted at the heart of Islam” she explains, and it is only through its reinterpretation that cultural change can be effective.
Second, Anwar takes “a philosophical approach to the question of gender and self,” intertwining egalitarian ethics with traditional modes of Islamic thought and exploring ontological questions about the nature of “self” and individual identity. “I want to bring Islamic feminist philosophy into contemporary discourse,” she said.
More information about the book, published by Routledge, can be found on the publisher’s website.
Anwar, who joined the faculty earlier this year, holds a bachelor's degree from the State Institute for Islamic Studies in Indonesia, a master's from McGill and her doctorate from State University at Binghamton.