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"Believing Women" in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,089 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Does Islam call for the oppression of women? Non-Muslims point to the subjugation of women that occurs in many Muslim countries, especially those that claim to be "Islamic," while many Muslims read the Qur'an in ways that seem to justify sexual oppression, inequality, and patriarchy. Taking a wholly different view, Asma Barlas develops a believer's reading of the Qur'an th ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 15th 2002 by University of Texas Press (first published March 31st 2002)
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 ·  1,089 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam, religion, quran
I'll just come right out and say it: I had very mixed feelings about this book. It is certainly an important work, but I felt like I just could not get into some of the language used, first of all. The author used many terms with a slash right in the middle of them, like "sexual/textual" that confused me a bit. I suppose I cannot blame the author for my not having a background in her specialty, but I felt that the average Muslim would be left scratching their head as much as I was. Maybe I'm wro ...more
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those who think Islam doesn't make room for human rights (esp, womens rights) this book is a great insight into Islam, the Qur'an and its true meanings.
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Asma Barlas finishes this book with a Post Script stating, "my objective in writing this book was to recover the scriptural basis of sexual equality in Islam and thereby to defend Islam against the claim, made by both Muslim conservatives and feminists, that it is a religious patriarchy that professes models of hierarchical relationships and sexual inequality". Without doubt she has truly met this objective academically, it's up to the people to realise this objective practically.

I m
Dec 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
I read this in the manuscript form and felt that it would make the author an international success. It has.

Rather than a review, I would like merely to describe it. It battles on two fronts: against feminists who might like to think that Islam is anti-women; and Muslims who might like to think that Islam gives them license to subordinate women.

The core of the analysis is the idea that God created woman not, as in Christianity, from the rib of man. Rather, that God creates men and wo
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Interpreting religious texts, in particular the Qur'an, has been the work of men for centuries. Women are excluded from contributing to the Tafsir. Although, women participated actively in the creation of religious knowledge in the early decades of Islam (the prophet's wife Aisha as example), their opinions have been excluded for a long time.

What are the consequences of the absence of women's voices? Isn't it one important reason of the patriarchal reading of the Qur'an? Isn't it a r
Aasem Bakhshi
I initially wanted to give this book 4 stars but then I ended up giving an extra because I must have given 5 if I was women. This is an excellent all-encompassing text and not just another feminist reading of the Quran. Barlas makes an extremely strong case for unreading patriarchical readings of scripture by principally moving the onus of (mis)reading from the Quran to the reader who is interacting with the text through his own subjectivities. In my view, the work achieves a two dimensional suc ...more
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dr. Asma Barlas has written a wonderful scholarly work (which may not be the easiest read but readers should stick with it) on her view of the Quran and Islam as egalitarian and antipatriarchal. Barlas challenges the methodology by which conservative mostly male interpretative communities empowered by state actors have read in patriarchal themes in the Quran. She also challenges some Western/feminist critiques of Islam trying to find a middle way between the two that remains faithful to the cent ...more
Reread in 2019: Rounding up my rating to 5 stars.

You would think that having to challenge multiple patriarchal practices and interpretations of Qur'an would require someone thousands of pages of scholarly work, but Barlas manages to do so in around 200 pages. That, in itself, blows my mind. I initially gave this book a 4 star rating because I thought the book was dry at times, but mostly that the academic writing could be a barrier for new readers who are just trying to learn about s
Presley Abdul
Asma Barlas definitely knows what she is talking about. "Believing Women" in Islam is an immensely valuable book, which has thoroughly researched and analyzed Qur'anic exegeses in a multi-faceted method that she carefully details. The book itself offers readers with past experience regarding hermeneutics and the Qur'an to read the book in a non-linear fashion. However, I did not follow that advice, having had a very minuscule background knowledge of traditional exegeses and hermeneutics. Barlas ...more
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pretty damn good book. Very detailed account of how oppressive readings of the Qur'an became confused with the Qur'anic discourse itself. Posits alternative intepretive approach that delineates a very convincing anti patriarchal theme within the text. Nevertheless, it does not give a satisfactory account of how the institution of a highly patriarchal family structure sits with this anti patriarchal theme. Furthermore, to argue that orthodox readings of the Qur'an are unholistic and ignore libera ...more
Apr 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Islam & Gender specialists
I really loved this book. Its tone is highly academic, but I thought it did a wonderful job of demonstrating how the Quran is consistent with egalitarian values of gender equity and how misogynist interpretations of the text reflect people's own pre-text and understanding of the text, rather than the Quran itself. She criticizes readings of the Quran that are decontextualized and selective, thereby emphasizing that it should be read holistically and intratextually. She argues that the Quran itse ...more
G Barahona
Dec 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Barlas' book is part of the modern scholarship in Islamic studies. She puts forth a strong argument (with excellent citations) that Islam has been derailed by shutting down ijti'had and ijma as well as the elevation of the ahadith over the Qur'an itself - which God specifically warned against. The book is broken into 3 parts and the first two delve deeply into these issues. The third part focused on the impact of these failures onto women. Excellent book for its argument and her craft.
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely, a fantastic book. An important book.

I can't emphasize enough how remarkable "Believing Women" is-- not remarkable only in so far as it applies to Islam...but also in the realm of women's studies, women's rights, feminism, families and marriages, justice, "peace studies", theology, hermeneutics.


Nov 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Some interesting and valid points based on the Quran showing how Islam strives for gender equality. Difference does not mean inequality. On the other hand, there are many other contentious issues that were not addressed such as the law of inheritance. There are also some issues that I disagree with. Although not comprehensive enough, it is still a good read.
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam
I'm finished with "Believing Women"...: An incredible scholarly & critical analysis that offers an insightful & inclusive approach textually, historically, culturally; lifting the veil off of patriarchal paradigms (once and for all) and revealing the true beauty, the essence of the Qur'an. Highly Recommended.
Herinza Syadza
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It opens up another review of the Quran, which were not read like it was supposed to. It encouraged me to start reading the Quran again (well, that's a long lost habit that should be continuously pursued) but I think the whole concept of the book is realizing how much Islam is a liberation to those who believe, and it was never oppressive towards women. It's just....misread! :)
Fadhilah Fitri
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: enlightening
I am glad that I found this book. Since I was in middle school, I have been questioning the way Islam—or what is perceived to be Islam—positions women in regards to men; I still remember how I cried out of anger when I was 14 or 15 because I couldn’t seem to find satisfying answers to my questions—at that age, the easiest way to look for information was through Google; no wonder that all the answers I came across affirms the subordination of women to men!

The biggest question that I asked myself
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
this is a must read- even if you don't agree with her rather modernist take on Islam, it's definatley thought-provoking!
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is in fact a reread for me, but I understood so little of it the first time around that I'm glad I read it again (and could probably do with another reread, to be honest). Even the second time around, it's a difficult book: extremely academic and accessible only with a great deal of difficulty for those who aren't well schooled in feminist theory and textual interpretation (even now, I'm note entirely sure I can explain what "hermeneutics" is). The author uses the Qur'an itself to argue aga ...more
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating reading of the Qur'an as an egalitarian text. Asma Barlas brings up some convincing arguments for why the Qur'an has been misread in the past to create a society in which women are treated as inferior as well as why the Qur'an is truly all about the equality of every human being. A few of her arguments seemed forced, as if she were grasping at straws to pull her theories together and prove their accuracy, but many of them made sense. I now desperately need to read through the Qur'an! ...more
Adam Ross
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islam
One of the most interesting books I have read in a long time, Barlas takes on the idea that the Qur'an is patriarchal, hostile and oppressive to women, and supports polygamy. Her case is built in excruciating detail through careful scholarship, intertextual and extratextual study, and technical exegesis. Doing so shows that she takes the text seriously and is not out to corrupt the text. What struck me, as a Christian, is the similarity between the theological epistemology of both Muslim conserv ...more
Apr 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, owned
Barlas explains in depth the patriarchal context into which the Qur'ān was revealed and how it was co-opted by patriarchal interpretive communities of the Qur'ān which, Barlas argued, can be read as a radically antipatriarchal and egalitarian text. This book offers great insight into the roots of islamic society and acts as a guidance of sorts through the misunderstanding, misuse, and abuse of the Qur'ān. I really enjoyed it.
Ahmed Diab
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
By far one of the best accounts I have read on revolutionizing Islamic thought and liberating exegesis from the canonized patriarchal/misogynistic traditions. She advocates exquisitely a brave and enlightening approach to hermeneutics and exegesis, criticizing our conception of the Sunna (prophet's tradition) and illustrating how it has been shaped/manipulated throughout history.
Asma's book is a good into to this new school of thought that also includes Soroush, Wadud, Abu Zaid and others.
many non muslim and many muslim get there culture mixed up with islam which is totally wrong and has nothing to do with islam there is only two types of culture in the islamic faith , that is the culture of Islam which gave women rights 1434 years ago and the culture of ignorance this book shine some light to this point.
Penandinkpot Uzma
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very good read and a needed book for today. A woman need not be labelled as a feminist to agree with all that is said and asked by a predominantly patriarchal tradition as opposed to a human tradition of men and women and their purpose and balanced relations.
Dec 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Amazing read. Really academic but so insightful for Muslims and Non Muslims alike. She does a great job of "re-reading" the Sacred text, without coming off as trying to modify it. Would highly recommend anyone interested in feminist(s) critique theories or Woman in Islam.

Jasbeer Musthafa
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: feminism
A recommended book that makes you feel the Muslim woman dignified!
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very helpful for eliciting information!
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
this is a must read- even if you don't agree with her rather modernist take on Islam, it's definatley thought-provoking!
Sara Salem
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Despite having many issues with Islamic feminism, I still find Asma Barlas' work very important.
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Asma Barlas (born 1950), is a Pakistani-American writer and academic. Her specialties include comparative and international politics, Islam and Qur'anic hermeneutics, and women's studies. Barlas was one of the first women to be inducted into the foreign service in 1976. Six years later, she was dismissed on the orders of General Zia ul Haq. She worked briefly as assistant editor of the opposition ...more
“Masculinizing God is the first step in positing a hierarchy in which males situate themselves beneath God and above women, implying that there is a symbolic (and sometimes literal) continuum between God's Rule over humans and male rule over women.” 6 likes
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