Sher Banu Khan
Associate Professor, National University Singapore
“Oppressed,” “Harassed,” “Victims,” are terms commonly associated with women in Islam. Whilst images of women in black burqas are generally taken as representative of Muslim women and stories of Muslim women lashed under the so-called Sharī’ah laws are rather commonplace, Muslim women as sovereign rulers and heads of state would indeed appear as an anathema. Yet, a study of Muslim women in the past and present in a variety of Islamic cultures and traditions demonstrates that women’s positions and roles in Islam do not necessarily reflect popular contemporary images of subordinated Muslim women. This not only provides an important counter-narrative to the current Islamophobic and absolutist narratives about women’s subordinated position in Islam, it shows how diverse and complex women’s position and roles are in different Islamic societies and contexts and the myriad ways women negotiated patriarchy, religion and culture. An examination of women in power illuminates unique insights into state power, authority and legitimacy in Muslim societies.