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  • The Making Of The "Lady Imam"An Interview with amina wadud
  • Kecia Ali (bio) and Amina Wadud

activism, exegesis, Islam, Qur'an

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amina wadud

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Kecia Ali

amina wadud is professor emeritus of Islamic studies and a visiting scholar at the Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley, California. Because of her embodied ethics, she is best known internationally as the "Lady Imam." Her intellectual work focuses on critical reading of Islamic classical sources and the sacred text from a gender-inclusive perspective. Her first book, Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Text from a Woman's Perspective (1992), transformed the [End Page 67] way people talk about women in Muslim scripture. Her second book, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam (2006), integrated the personal politics of Muslim women's movements with both spiritual and philosophical discourses regarding Muslim women, agency, and authority in Islamic thought and practice. wadud is a founding member (with Zainah Anwar, Askiah Adam, Norani Othman, Rashidah Abdullah, Rose Ismail, and Sharifah Zuriah Aljeffri) of Sisters in Islam, a civil society organization committed to promoting the rights of women within the frameworks of Islam and universal human rights. Sisters of Islam first assembled in 1987 within the Association of the Women Lawyers when several women lawyers and their academic, activist, and journalist friends came together under the association's sharia subcommittee to study problems associated with the implementation of new Islamic Family Laws that had been legislated in Malaysia in 1984. She is also a member of the Musawah network (directed by Sisters in Islam coordinator Zainah Anwar). Musawah, which means "equality" in Arabic, is a global movement for equality and justice in Muslim families. It was launched in February 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at a meeting attended by over 250 women and men from around fifty different countries. Musawah is pluralistic and inclusive, bringing together nongovernmental organizations, activists, scholars, legal practitioners, policy makers, and grassroots women and men from around the world.

Currently, wadud is doing research (funded by the Arcus Foundation) on sexual diversity, human dignity, and Islamic classical sources to further her methodological work as it intersects with the lived realities of Muslims and their allies on issues of social justice and Islamic theology. She is the architect of what she refers to as the tawhidic paradigm, a humanist Islamic rubric for universal human rights. She is mother of five and Nana to six.

This interview took place at the "Contemporary Women in Islam: Politics and Identity" conference hosted by the Lewis Global Studies Center at Smith College in February 2018 while wadud was serving as Smith Global Scholar in Residence. The transcript that appears here has been substantially condensed, lightly reorganized, and edited for clarity by Kecia Ali. The entire interview, which contains significant additional material on spirituality, ritual practice, race, and racism, can be viewed along with other videos from the conference on YouTube.1


We met more than twenty years ago when I was a doctoral candidate at Duke. I didn't realize then that it would be the start of an engagement that has continued in print, in person, by phone, and over email for more than two decades. [End Page 68] So first of all, thank you; it's been a real enrichment of my life and scholarship to have you be part of it. Let me start by asking about Qur'an and Woman because it's been more than twenty-five years since the initial Malaysian publication of the book, which grew out of your work with Sisters in Islam. It was republished by Oxford University Press in 1999. Can you say something about what brought you to the book in the first place, and where the book has brought you over these decades?


Thank you very much. Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim. I always begin in the name of Allah whose grace I seek in this and all other matters. This year I celebrate being sixty-five, so I do look back on life and friendships and have a different kind of appreciation for the...


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