For more on this topic, see Gender and Islam

Introduction

The term ‘feminine’ conjures up images of flowers and pink fluffy fabrics, soft smiles, and sweetly spoken words. Years ago, girls in Minnesota who preferred soccer to sewing were called ‘tomboys’ because their hobbies were not feminine or ‘girly.’ Today, children are questioning their very biological sex because they do or do not identify with cultural norms around ‘being a girl’ or ‘being a boy.’ Muslims are often grappling with this disturbing tendency by grasping on to a binary definition of feminine and masculine behavior, applying these standards to all women and men, and claiming to do so based on religion.
Further to this problem, the “status of Muslim women” and “the role of women in Islam” are topics that have been tossed from one speaker to another like a large piece of pizza dough. Each ‘handler’ tosses the dough up into the air, making claims about Muslim women’s roles and responsibilities as wives and mothers; some tell women not to come to the mosque, while others call for women to forgo their God-given rights of financial independence and personal agency. Still other speakers may stray far from traditional values; e.g., denying the necessity for hijab and calling on Muslim women to defy religion and traditional fiqh. This binary thinking has caused confusion and confoundment—especially amongst women of faith. Who am I as a Muslim woman? What does it mean to be female and what role does femininity play in my life? These are questions playing on the minds of young and old alike.
In order to answer this question, we must find a way to break out of preconceived ideas around femininity and masculinity that we have adopted subconsciously. In the following pages, I first discuss Western myths around femininity. I then look to the women mentioned in the Qur’an and Muslim women throughout the centuries, in an attempt to propose a model of Muslim femininity that is rooted in Muslim women themselves.

The global June Cleaver

Women in the Qur’an

And more...

Qur’anic definitions of femininity

Historical roles        

The case of Aisha  رضي الله عنها

Early spiritual and religious leaders

Inheritance of Aisha        

Communities of women

Femininity redefined

Notes