Qur’an and Woman Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud, 2nd ed, New York Oxford – Oxford University Press 1999, 118 p.

AW2L’ouvrage de Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Woman Reareading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective, s’appuyant sur une perspective féminine, offre une lecture inclusive du Coran. Appartenant à un courant de réforme de l’islam appelé communément le féminisme islamique, Amina Wadud souhaite dans un premier temps, lire le Coran comme un texte ouvert et non figé. Elle développe également plusieurs outils herméneutiques qui s’inscrivent dans des préoccupations contemporaines. Ce qui l’amène dans un second temps, en mobilisant toujours le Coran, à défendre une égalité entre les hommes et les femmes ainsi que de fournir des concepts favorisant l’émancipation des femmes. Cet ouvrage permet donc de porter un autre regard sur la religion musulmane et son texte sacré.

The Qur’an does not talk by itself, it is humans who make it talk. Amina Wadud’s book summarizes this insight which is both complex and sensitive. Scholar of Qur’anic studies and Muslim theologian, Amina Wadud also embodies a reference within the Islamic feminist movement, Sisters in Islam. In the preface, we can notice a dedication to this movement. According to her, women in Muslim countries or in Muslim communities are relegated to the role of subject without agency. This relegation is mainly due to the androcentric reading of the Qur’an. She proposes to “make a ‘reading’ of the Qur’an that would be meaningful to women living in the modern era” (p.1).

Amina Wadud’s aim in this book concerns two distinct issues. On the one hand, she will ask how much a reading is central to comprehensive Qur’anic analysis. On the other hand, she will focus on the interpretation of the Qur’an. Many ways of reading the Qur’an exist; however, Wadud seeks above all to give attention to the female voice. As a result, she develops a key concept: female-centered or female-inclusive reading. She sees that focusing on methods of Qur’an exegesis are relevant to the issues of women. Especially, through “languaging”, genders marks, and grammatical constructs. Furthermore, Wadud’s method is in accordance with her research. Indeed, her method was placed “in the third category of Qur’anic interpretation which reconsiders the whole method of Qur’anic exegesis with regard to […] the issue of women.” (p.3)

Amina Wadud has a considerable bibliography including Qur’anic sources, Translations, Dictionaries, Grammars, Arabic Sources, and Non-Arabic sources. Translations of the Qur’an come mostly from academic works. However, she prefers to offer her own translation; using more modern vocabulary. Wadud’s book also inserts references from eminent scholars of Islamic studies such as Fazlur Rahman who is often mentioned, and well-known Muslim thinkers.

Wadud’s argument about the concept of humanity and the process of human creation in the Qur’an are of considerable interest. In Chapter One, she thinks that humankind originated from the male/female pair. Grammatically this pair is masculine; whereas conceptually it is neither masculine nor feminine. Therefore, no specific roles were defined to man and woman at the beginning of creation. Other alternative means are used, such as the significance of particular female characters mentioned in the Qur’an, and the interpretation of Qur’anic social reforms for women. Generally, her ideas get organized; the book’s structure is meticulous. Wadud is an involved scholar as can be understood within the framework of her interpretation “I explicitly challenge the arrogance of those men.” (p. 96), and “I was particularly concerned with the consequences on women.” (p. 97).

Though the book’s subject is narrow, Wadud challenges us through its form – including glossary, index, appendix, and bibliography. When she speaks of the necessity to “challenge patriarchy, not for matriarchy” (p. 103) she strongly supports an “efficient egalitarian system” (p. 103), but not at all a sort of revenge against men. Rethinking the Qur’an from a woman’s perspective seems to be a bold project. Indeed, in our mainly patriarchal societies – Muslim or not – she represents a minority. As a woman, as well as a woman theologian, she is, in a way, invisible. According to Amina Wadud, the superiority of man is due to the misreading and misunderstanding of the Qur’an. However, in Muslim societies and within Muslim communities, are social relations exclusively based on the Qur’an or, more widely, on Islam?