Women, Leadership and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority
The ability of women to exercise various types of Islamic religious authority has increased significantly since the early twentieth century, especially during the last two or three decades. Existing scholarship, however, has focused overwhelmingly on certain facets of this increase, in particular female leadership through Sufi groups and attempts to reinterpret Islam to accommodate gender equality, whether through an explicitly ‘feminist’ framework or not.
Missing from the literature is serious analysis of the growing acceptance of women within mosques and madrasas, spaces which have long been centres of Islamic authority but from which women have traditionally been excluded or marginalised. The acceptance of female leadership and activities in these spaces is a significant change from historic practices, signalling the mainstream acceptance of (some forms of) female Islamic leadership. The nature, dynamics and scope of female leadership activities within mosques vary widely, with differences between (and within) North Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and diaspora communities in North America and Europe.
Very few scholars have attempted to apply the exciting work on changing structures of Islamic authority to the activities of women, despite the fact that these changes are what have enabled women to take a much more active role within the religious sphere. Crucially, a fully-contextualised account of the activities of these groups often requires time-intensive fieldwork, making it difficult for a single author to consider multiple contexts in a monograph.
This conference will energize scholarship on Muslim women by bringing together scholars with geographically-diverse expertise to focus specifically on female leadership in mosques and madrasas and the structure of religious authority that enable or limit these activities.
The papers presented at this conference will investigate
- how women active in mosques and madrasas construct their authority as leaders,
- the impact they have on their students and the wider community, and
- how they use public space in mosques and madrasas, and present the rich social, political, economic and historical contexts of these activities.