In recent years, global attention has focused on how women in communities of Muslims are revitalizing Islam by linking interpretation of religious ideas to the protection of rights and freedoms. Humanizing the Sacred demonstrates how Sunni women activists in Malaysia are fracturing institutionalized Islamic authority by generating new understandings of rights and redefining the moral obligations of their community. Based on ethnographic research of Sisters in Islam (SIS), a nongovernmental organization of professional women promoting justice and equality, Basarudin examines SIS members' involvement in the production and transmission of Islamic knowledge to reformulate legal codes and reconceptualize gender discourses. By weaving together women's lived realities, feminist interpretations of Islamic texts, and Malaysian cultural politics, this book illuminates how a localized struggle of claiming rights takes shape within a transnational landscape. It provides a vital understanding of how women "live" Islam through the integration of piety and reason and the implications of women's political activism for the transformation of Islamic tradition itself.
Note on Malay Names, Honorific Titles, and Terminology
List of Abbreviations
Introduction | Faith, Self, and Community
1. Islam, the State, and Gender | The Malaysian Experiment
2. The Politics of the Sacred | Returning to the Fundamentals of Islam
3. In the Path of the Faithful | Activism for Social and Legal Reforms
4. Who Speaks for Islam? | Religious Authority and Contested Justice
5. Negotiating Lives, Crafting Selves | Narratives of Belonging
6. The Local in the Transnational | Gender Justice and Feminist Solidarities
A very well written and engaging account of the Sisters in Islam, an exceedingly important Muslim feminist organization based in Malaysia that has had a significant impact, through its writing and activism, in Southeast Asia and far beyond.
Michael Peletz, author of Islamic Modern: Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia
Sisters in Islam is a pioneer in the field of contemporary Muslim women’s activism. Azza Basarudin’s thoughtful interviews and meticulously detailed histories about the lives of its members reveal the diverse ways Muslim women arrive at the point of activism. Humanizing the Sacred is an extremely important and timely book.
Elora Shehabuddin, author of Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh
Humanizing the Sacred offers an innovative, nuanced cartography of the intellectual activism of Malay Muslim women reclaiming Islam and refashioning ethical selves in a remarkable act of balancing religious specificities and universal rights. The labor of reinterpreting classic Islamic doctrine, coupled with policy and activist work on issues of gender justice anchored in these very reinterpretations characterizes the truly unique and groundbreaking work of Sisters in Islam. An elegant, theoretically sophisticated ethnography that is a must-read for scholars in interdisciplinary feminist studies, religious studies, and anthropology.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, author of Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
Humanizing the Sacred offers a compelling account of Sisters in Islam, a groundbreaking collective of Muslim women activists and scholars struggling against religious authoritarianism. Neither naively celebratory nor harshly critical, Azza Basarudin offers a thorough and impassioned account of the group’s struggle toward the development of a feminist interpretive community grounded in Islam, with influence in local, national, and transnational spheres.
Kecia Ali, author of Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence
A diverse range of insightful analyses supported by feminist ideas, interviews, and histories. The book provides a solid critique of patriarchal discourses dominating Muslim identity politics in Malaysia.
Religion and Gender
Humanizing the Sacred is a welcome addition to the study of women’s movements and Islamic feminism. . . .This book is therefore a timely and important read. Its accessible language makes it suitable not just for undergraduate and postgraduate students alike, but also readers who are interested in understanding issues of feminism, rights and equality in Islam, especially in Malaysia.
Contemporary Southeast Asia
Basarudin's book is a significant contribution to understanding the distinct dynamics of Muslim feminism in Southeast Asia, the region with the largest Muslim community in the world. It is also an important work in a line of scholarship that is dedicated to deconstructing the orientalist binary of the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’, especially in their gendered forms in the context of post 9/11 politics.
The Muslim World
Humanizing the Sacred is a valuable contribution to the literature on Malaysian civil society, feminism, and Islam; on women’s activism within Muslim communities globally; and on the ongoing dialectic between scripture and culture in any religious community, but especially within Islam. The book will be of interest to anthropologists, scholars of religion (particularly Islam), and both area specialists and those focused on women’s/gender studies or feminism. . . . The book is sure to inspire both thoughtful reflection and lively debate, in Malaysia and elsewhere.
Islamic Law and Society
Azza Basarudin tells the story of [Sisters in Islam] in this finely detailed feminist ethnography. . . . This comprehensive study of SIS will certainly be of interest to scholars of Southeast Asia and anyone interested in Muslim women’s movements.
Journal of Asian Studies