Gender and Islamic studies scholar Dr. Amina Wadud visits Smith
Briana Brady ‘21
Dr. Amina Wadud spoke at Smith College on Feb. 7, 2018 as part of the Lewis Center for Global Studies’ Annual Conference. This year’s conference featured guests to speak on the topic of “Contemporary Women in Islam: Politics and Identity.”
“According to Islam, if you believe in things, you have to do everything you can to achieve them. I take inspiration from Gandhi who said that you must be the change you wish to see in the world. Social justice, gender equality, love, mercy and reciprocity between women and men are the inspiration I received from the Quran and I will do everything I can to achieve this in the world,” Wadud said in conversation with Azzurra Meringolo from Reset Dialogues on Civilization, with Dr. Amina Wadud. In the interview, Wadud discusses the ways she incorporates her religion and academic prowess into her activism and social work.
Wadud is the Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., as well as a visiting scholar at Starr King School for Ministry in Berkeley, Calif.
Wadud grew up in a Methodist, Afro-American family but speaks to the ideals of religious exploration and freedom that her father, a Methodist minister, instilled at her from a young age.
She said that her father encouraged her to seek the relationships that exist between religion and justice. Before becoming a Muslim in 1972, she practiced Buddhism. Wadud noted that in her travels, she has found that Islam, specifically, has “an important sense and relation with the universe.”
Wadud also found that Islam appealed to her because the relation between God and justice is more articulated in Islam than in other religions. Racial and economic equality are important components of the faith.
She often used the term “radical pluralism” to describe the diversity of opinions that are present in the Muslim community and their individual dignities, as well as “musawa,” meaning reciprocal equality of treatment and opportunity.
In discussing her work on gender during an interview with PBS, Wadud described herself as “advocating the need for reinterpreting the Quran in order to help to develop more inclusive, generally equitable laws.”
In 2005, Wadud made national news by leading a mixed-gender prayer service in the Synod House in New York. Her decision to lead the prayer drew mixed reactions, but the heart of the issue lies in the question of whether Muslim women and men have the same privileges in the practice of their faith.
Partitions have traditionally separated women into less desirable places than men during prayer services, and men have been required to attend Friday prayer, whereas women have not.
At the beginning of that service, Wadud declared, according to The New York Times, “The voices of women have been silenced by centuries of man-made traditions, and we’re saying, ‘No more!’ We’re going to move from the back of the mosque to the front of the mosque.”
When asked about this service in her interview with Reset DOC, Wadud explained, “I wanted to prove that human beings are on a horizontal line of reciprocity, that means that there is no role that is fixed by gender unless determined by biology. The Quran never says that the imam cannot be a woman and must be a man. Whenever there is a difference in the ijtihad (interpretation) of the Holy Books we have to use our intelligence to understand the real meaning of Islam.”
Wadud ended by saying, “We have to look for equality. We cannot get confused. Equity means to the complementary. It is like a man who wears an unfinished dress.”
Author of “Quran and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective” and “Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam,” Wadud said that “Peace and justice are still far from being achieved. This is the dream of my life.”