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“Reconstructions of the Past: Hafsa bint Sirin” (8 blog entries published on Feminism and Religion)

A series of blogs on Hafsa bint Sirin (d. 100/800), a scholar of Qur’an, Hadith, and legal readings of the Qur’an, and a deeply pious worshipper. The blogs discuss how women’s stories over time have been transmitted and interpreted in such ways as to emphasize pious solitude rather than social or intellectual engagement.


Women’s Mosque Attendance

Hafsa’s Hadith

Women’s Withdrawal is Women’s Piety

Women’s Withdrawal in the Literature

My Story of Her Life 1

My Story of Her Life 2

My Story of Her Life 3


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Blogging at Feminism and Religion

I’m very proud to share that I’m a contributor at the “Feminism and Religion” blog.  Please click through to see my first post entitled “Muslim Ritual Prayer, Social Submission, and Embodied Dissonance,” which concerns the use of repetitive ritual behaviors as a means of gendered-social control. My second post, “Creating Space: Mosques Affirming All Bodies Minds and Hearts,” discusses a resolution to the problem of embodied social control through ritual worship. My third post, “Doctor Debbie Downer Discourses on the Lives of Early Pious and Sufi Women” looks at romantic treatments of these women’s lives as a barrier to contemporary women’s empowerment.

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2013 Spring Term Jameson Jones Visiting Preacher at Iliff School of Theology

I am honored to have been invited to give the sermon as the 2013 Spring Term Jameson Jones Visiting Preacher at Iliff School of Theology, in Denver, Colorado.  The title of my sermon is “‘With Hardship Comes Ease’ (Q 94:5):  The Voice of Consolation in the Qur’an.”

My sermon will reflect on the consoling nature of the Divine Word. The Qur’an is an unvarnished revelation that sometimes depicts human nature at its worst, yet offers a way out, and provides consolation for the pain of simply living through it all. These days, Muslims are often painted into a corner from which they are forced to defend themselves to anyone and everyone that their religion is not what everyone fears. It can be a risky matter to publicly share how one grapples with the harshness of life through the Divine Word. Talking about God’s more easily digested and uplifting messages sometimes seems to be the only way to survive being a Muslim in North America. I hope that by baring my experience of psychic and bodily salvation through the Qur’an from abuses of authority and control permitted by God, fellow travelers will recognize their own struggles with their own Word and find consolation and healing in our common humanity.

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A Jihad for Justice: Honoring the Life and Work of Amina Wadud

In preparation for the conference, Juliane Hammer, Kecia Ali and I collected and edited a volume of essays, articles, art, and poems in honor of Amina Wadud to present to her at the conference.  A Jihad for Justice:  Honoring the Life and Work of Amina Wadud.  We are distributing the book online for free in keeping with women’s alternative modes of knowledge production and dissemination.  In other words, we wanted everyone to have the opportunity to read it.  A free download of the book can be found on the Boston University Website.

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Muslim Women and the Challenge of Authority Conference Boston March 2012


Amina Wadud’s Keynote Speech

Amina Wadud

Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies

The Authority of Experience

Islamic mysticism or tasawwuf confirms the necessity of experience for determining what constitute the authority of authenticity.  It is contrasted to elaborated constructs often developed in abstraction by the more legalistic thinkers.  In the 21st century Muslim women human rights and community activists began to grapple with the divide between the basic principles of justice and compassion espoused within the tradition but not experienced by some Muslim women in their lived realities. The divide between projected or perceived goals and women’s lived realities became an effective tool for promoting changes at the policy level and in the context of Muslim Personal Status Law.  It constitutes a shift from women as subjects of the law to women as agents of any laws that they are expected to live by.   This presentation will first describe different types of authority before proposing the methodological and strategic steps to an affimration of women’s lived realities as a means for interpretation, even of sacred texts, but particularly of policies and legal codes developed to achieve the ideal Islamic society.

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Lecture at Boston University on Early Pious Women

Laury Silvers, University of Toronto

Disappearing Women: Hafsa bint Sirin

and the Textual Seclusion of Early Pious and Sufi Women

Thursday, February 16, 4:30pm

CURA (10 Lenox St., Brookline, MA)

First Floor Conference Room

Within a few centuries of Muhammad’s death, women disappear almost entirely from Muslim biographical literature and mystical and ethical manuals. Rkia Cornell has called women’s history in early Islam “a veiled tradition,” not only because of women’s absence from texts but also because the tradition idealizes female piety as silence and isolation. Silvers explores and expands Cornell’s observation by reading against the grain of biographical reports from Islam’s first century on pious and Sufi women. She shows that transmitters have re-framed, de-emphasized, and even erased depictions of women’s socially embedded lives in order to construct an ideal woman whose submission to God serves the patriarchal ideal of seclusion. For instance, biographers depict a highly esteemed pious woman, Hafsa bt. Sirin of Basra (d. ca. 110/728), as a woman who did not simply retreat to her home–for homes are social spaces–but into a room within her home for some thirty years until her death. Yet Hafsa, a woman who enjoyed extraordinary intimacy with God, was also a daughter sensitive to issues of family social status, a learned woman who taught men in her home, a corpse-washer, and a devoted, grieving mother. Silvers will argue that despite a literary tradition that is directed to produce the opposite message, that for Hafsa there does not seem to have been a contradiction between a life of worship and a life lived in the company of other people.

2011 – 2012 Lecture Series Sponsored by:

Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs; BU Center for the Humanities; Institute for Philosophy and Religion; the Department of Religion; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the New England /Maritimes Regional American Academy of Religion.

For more information, contact CURA at 617-353-9050 or

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American Academy of Religion 2011

The annual American Academy of Religion conference is being held this coming weekend (Nov. 19-22) in San Francisco.

As part of the Rethinking Islamic Studies Series, Gordon Newby (Emory Univ.) and I have organized a pre-conference workshop entitled Gender, Sexuality and Bodies in the Text. In the workshop, Newby, Aisha Geissinger (Carleton Univ.), Kecia Ali (Boston Univ.), Richard McGregor (Vanderbilt Univ.), Karen Ruffle (Univ. of Toronto), and Sadiyya Shaikh (Univ. of Cape Town) with Scott Kugle (Emory Univ.) will be leading discussions on how they read for issues of gender, sexuality, and bodies in primary source material. Each table leader will be bringing some of her or his own work, including selections from his or her primary sources (in the original and translation) and take participants through her or his process of reading texts for issues concerning gender and sexuality.  Then, several participants at each table will share some of their of own primary source material (in the original and translation) for the group to read though together.  At the end of the afternoon, each of the tables will be asked to share their observations with everyone for a group discussion. We hope the process will generate a lively conversations about the methods, and even the salience, of reading gender, sexuality, and bodies in the sources and foster a collaborative intellectual atmosphere.  Sponsored by the Islamic Mysticism Group and the Qur’an Group (see below for table presentation titles).

The Islamic Mysticism Group will be holding two panel sessions and co-sponsoring a third.

“‘It’s Not Made by Great Men’: Sufism Understood from the Side of the People,” “The Fall of the Image:  Finding and Losing Oneself through Iconoclasm,” and, co-sponsored with the Study of Islam Section, “Sufism after the Linguistic Turn.” (see below for presenters and their paper titles, presiders, and respondents)


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