Asma Barlas

Professor Emerita, Politics
School: School of Humanities and Sciences
Podcast on "Believing Women in Islam" with Asad Dandia (August 3, 2020).

Believing Women in Islam (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2019, revised edition; 2002)

Published in Indonesian as Cara Quran Membebaskan Perempuan (Jakarta, Serambi, 2005). Published in the U.K. by Saqi Press (2019).

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

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 that demonstrates the radically egalitarian and antipatriarchal nature of its teachings. Beginning with a historical analysis of religious authority and knowledge, Barlas shows how Muslims came to read inequality and patriarchy into the Qur'an to justify existing religious and social structures and demonstrates that the patriarchal meanings ascribed to the Qur'an are a function of who has read it, how, and in what contexts. She goes on to reread the Qur'an's position on a variety of issues in order to argue that its teachings do not support patriarchy. To the contrary, Barlas convincingly asserts that the Qur'an affirms the complete equality of the sexes, thereby offering an opportunity to theorize radical sexual equality from within the framework of its teachings. This new view takes readers into the heart of Islamic teachings on women, gender, and patriarchy, allowing them to understand Islam through its most sacred scripture, rather than through Muslim cultural practices or Western media stereotypes.

Believing Women in Islam: A Brief Introduction, with David Raeburn Finn (University of Texas Press, 2019).

A Brief Introduction presents the arguments of Believing Women in a simplified way that will be accessible and inviting to general readers and undergraduate students.

Brief Intro, cover

Is women’s inequality supported by the Qur’an? Do men have the exclusive right to interpret Islam’s holy scripture? In her best-selling book Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an, Asma Barlas argues that, far from supporting male privilege, the Qur’an actually encourages the full equality of women and men. She explains why a handful of verses have been interpreted to favor men and shows how these same verses can be read in an egalitarian way that is fully supported by the text itself and compatible with the Qur’an’s message that it is complete and self-consistent.

In this book, the authors continue to focus primarily on the Qur’an’s teachings about women and patriarchy. They show how traditional teachings about women’s inferiority are not supported by the Qur’an but were products of patriarchal societies that used it to justify their existing religious and social structures. The authors’ hope is that by understanding how patriarchal traditionalists have come to exercise so much authority in today’s Islam, as well as by rereading some of the Qur’an’s most controversial verses, adherents of the faith will learn to question patriarchal dogma and see that an egalitarian reading of the Qur’an is equally possible and, for myriad reasons, more plausible.

Re-Understanding Islam; Spinoza Lectures (Amsterdam, the Netherlands: van Gorcum, 2008).

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Re-Understanding Islam: A Double Critique (Spinoza Lectures)

"In these two lectures [delivered in May and June 2008] Barlas offers a double critique: of Muslims, for reading sexual inequality and oppression into Islam's scripture, the Qur'an, and of "the West" for failing to develop morally relevant ways of speaking about Islam and Muslims"--Back cover.

Spinoza Lecture I
“Believing Women” in Islam: Between Secular and Religious Politics and Theology
Framework of this lecture
Why say no? Why say yes?
Secular fundamentalisms
Saying no, saying yes

Spinoza Lecture II
Would Spinoza Understand Me? Europe, Islam, and the Mirror of Difference
Framework of this lecture
Three traveling tropes
Repetition/Repression and other questions

Islam, Muslims and the US (New Delhi, India: Global Media, 2004)

Cover of book on Islam, Muslims, Politics

Islam, Muslims and the U.S.: Essays on Religion and Politics

"9/11 marks a turning point in the public discourses on Islam in the West and in the relationship between 'Islam and the West'. Along with the US Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, sweeping demonizations of Islam in the media, hate crimes against Muslims living in the US., there also emerged an interest on the part not only of non-Muslims, but Muslims as well, in learning about Islam.

The author discusses at length the widening schism between Muslims and the west and the way the US has taken advantage of the deadly 9/11 strikes to take its war on terror to Muslim lands. She also discusses the marginalisation of Muslim women in Muslim societies around the world and goes on to say that for the patriarchal Muslim society the other is not the 'western infidel' but the Muslim woman, while for westerners, the other has been Islam since early medieval times, much before the advent of any Bin Laden."

Democracy, Nationalism, and Communalism (Boulder, CO.: Westview Press, 1995; Routledge, 2019)

Cover of Democracy, etc.

Democracy, Nationalism, and Communalism: The Colonial Legacy in South Asia

Drawing on aspects of Antonio Gramsci's theories of a passive revolution and hegemony, the author explores the social origins of divergent political systems in India (an electoral democracy) and Pakistan (subjected to military rule for much of its existence) after British colonial rule of the subcontinent ended in 1947.