Friday, July 20, 2012

Patheos :: American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism

American Muslim Women,
Religious Authority, and Activism
by Juliane Hammer
Book Review: More Than a Prayer 

The title of Juliane Hammer’s new book American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More Than a Prayer, refers to the much-publicised Friday prayer led by Amina Wadud in March 2005. As Hammer explains in the introduction to her book, “The 2005 prayer, itself part of a larger trajectory of events, debates, and developments, focused and changed existing intra-Muslim discussions and reflections on issues ranging from women’s interpretation of the Qur’an, leadership, mosque space, and religious authority to gender activism and media representations.” (p. 1)

The book focuses on a body of texts that Hammer identifies as “books, journal articles, newspapers, websites, and documentaries produced by and about American Muslim women since the early 1980s” (p. 8). She acknowledges a “progressive” bent to many of the texts she examines, while recognising the complexities of such labels. The women whose works are discussed in the book include Amina Wadud, Asra Nomani, Riffat Hassan, Aysha Hidayatullah, Kecia Ali, Asma Barlas, Laury Silvers, Azizah al-Hibri, Nimat Barazangi, Ingrid Mattson, Mohja Kahf, Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur, Asma Gull Hasan, and Sumbul Ali-Karamali, among many others. 

Hammer uses the woman-led prayer from 2005 as a jumping-off point for mapping some of the debates and discussions in which American Muslim women writers and activists are engaged. The result is an intriguing, informative, and thoughtful look at some of the ways that gender roles and religious authority are being discussed and manifested within American Muslim communities. Although there were occasions where the descriptions of the 2005 prayer and its major players felt somewhat repetitive, Hammer’s focus on it is overall a unique and effective way of pinpointing and illustrating some of the issues that she raises. 

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