Senior Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Thesis (Open Access)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Faculty Advisor(s)

Bill Millar

Subject Categories

Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Religion | Rhetoric


This paper examines Islamic feminism using structural methodology and the phenomenological approach to examine the component of Muslim feminists' activism that utilizes ijtihad and tafsir to reinterpret patriarchal rhetoric and highlight Islamic discourses that validate gender equality. These scholars and activists critically analyze Islamic theology by employing hermeneutics in order to produce Islamic exegeses that affirm social justice, gender equality, and liberation. Religion plays a critical role in building collective cultural identities; therefore, examining sacred texts' representation and prescription of gender roles and mores generates an understanding of the gender order in the community of believers, while simultaneously exposing contextual patriarchal inaccuracies that result in gender inequities. Muslim scholar-activists engage in this work to re-appropriate their cultural self-definition by emphasizing the socio-political environments that shaped the interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadiths in order to promote justice and affirm gender equality within an Islamic paradigm. A liberatory theology legitimized by Islamic sacred texts not only confronts systemic and systematic repressive practices against women but also mandates reflexive change in Islamic societies. Muslims' collective identity is couched within an Islamic discourse; therefore, Muslim scholar-activists' reinterpretation of sacred texts has the potential to enable a genuine cultural paradigm shift that can establish the necessary milieu for progressive women’s rights to not only be proposed but also implemented successfully in Islamic societies.

This paper evaluates the growing academic literature on reform-oriented Muslim scholar-activists and specifically focuses on the ways in which Islamic feminists reinterpret the Qur’an by employing ijtihad and tafsir to 1) contextualize verses and revelations; 2) search for the best meaning as charged by the Qur’an; 3) compare specific words or ayats with the syntactical composition elsewhere in the sacred text; and, 4) read ayat and suras in a holistic manner with the Qur’an’s broader thematic message in mind. Their reinterpretations set the foundation for Islamic feminists' activism in broader society that seeks to eliminate social discrimination, promote social justice, and progress human equality and dignity. This examination of Muslim scholar-activists' hermeneutics illustrates that Islamic feminism is a viable avenue to empower Muslim women and foster grass-roots cultural transformation in Muslim societies towards more gender egalitarian attitudes and practices. I argue that Islamic feminist scholars’ hermeneutics unshackles Islam’s liberatory theology and egalitarian message from patriarchal inaccuracies.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.