Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

November 2005
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Book Review

Book Review
Reviewed by: N.Vijay Sai

Great Ancestors: Women Asserting Rights in Muslim Contexts
(Information and Training Kit)
Published By: Shirkat Gah- Women’s Resource Centre
Edited by: Fareeda Shaheed & Aisha L.F.Shaheed
Year: 2004
Place: Lahore, Pakistan
E-mail: [email protected]

This set of two books makes extremely important reading for those who have interest in studying the women’s movement in south Asia. This publication was developed and shaped under the international solidarity network called “Women Living Under Muslim Laws” (WLUML) which was and continues to be a landmark social movement.

There are two books in this set. The first is a training manual that is developed to focus on young activists and students who are interested in Islamic feminism. It is designed into modules that can be adapted into classroom exercises for students. It contains both texts and illustrations that work as guidelines for adaptation. The whole format of this adaptation revolves around the various narratives of struggle of women taken from real life stories from across the world.

The second book contains a volume of chronologically arranged narratives of each of these women who struggled in their personal, family and social lives. These are stories from across the spectrum of life like scholars to artistes to Sufi saints beginning right in the 8th century and going upto the 1950’s. Some of the very interesting stories are those from the 12th to 16th century where one gets an understanding of the women’s movement across the world in places like Indonesia, Egypt, Tehran, Zazzau and Spain. There are over 53 biographical notes. One gets a better understanding of the various political and social situations through personal narratives.

It is a myth that contemporary women’s movement is rooted in Europe and North America. This set of books completely refutes this myth, not just with textual matter, but accurate and rich visuals taken from miniatures, portraits and photographs. The collection here is possibly the first venture in Islamic sub-altern feministic studies. The stories here are not of women who were powerful or famous, but of those women who dared to intervene and speak for their rights and for the cause of social justice. These are narratives that will continue to challenge the existing patriarchal norms that have been blindly forced down upon by societal pressures.

The assertiveness of these narratives is more than just at a personal struggle for rights within the family space. It goes beyond individual integrity to form larger solidarity movements and takes on the role of development through various forms of scholarship.

One of the best parts of these books is the extensive bibliographies after every chapter. This also reflects on the efficient scholarship of the editors.

These books serve as possibly the best effort in creating a beginner’s guide to Islamic feminism for students, scholars and academicians across the world.

(Vijay Sai is a Human Rights activist and an independent research scholar. He may be reached at [email protected])