‘The Lady Imam’

In this wonderfully honest account of hope, Alizeh Abdul Rahman examines the work of influential Islamic scholar Amina Wadud and her ‘gender jihad’.


Discourse on Islam has often been victim to androcentrism – which makes very little sense, considering the religion’s emphasis upon reason. This is what makes Amina Wadud and her work so influential. As a Muslim womxn, I’m yet to find my liberation from both secularism and orthodoxy - but reading Wadud’s work gives me hope. She provides a perspective on Islam and Quranic exegesis which is refreshing (if long over-due). 


Formally an American Muslim philosopher and scholar, many know Wadud as ‘the Lady Imam’ - a title in reference to 2005 when she led a congregation of Muslims for Friday prayer. Whilst this event made her infamous within the Muslim community, it also served as a symbolic moment of female empowerment. Wadud’s actions forced many to question the theological basis against female Imams, which in itself was a powerful feat. Through questioning these practises, the hope is that the patriarchal structures - which for centuries have commanded the Muslim narrative - can be broken down. 


Wadud embarks on this journey in Qur'an and Woman, which provides an incredible reading of the Qur'an through the female voice. She reminds us that the Qur'an rests on an assumption - not inference - of equality. So instead of searching for verses which evince gender equality in Islam, the verses themselves descend from this superlative notion. In this way, we become cognisant of any impediments to our rights - both as human beings and as womxn. This is what Wadud calls the gender jihad - “a struggle to establish gender justice in Muslim thought and praxis”. By defining this struggle in Islamic terms, there is no longer room for a dichotomy of values to emerge. The message is simple: this fight is now a fundamentally Muslim one. 


However, Wadud’s efforts are by no means limited to gender. Her work on dismantling the anti-LGBT+ narrative is significant for many Muslims such as myself. She reminds us that it is human prejudice, not religion, which fuels the dissonance between sexuality and religion. As a result, it is possible to find emancipation within one's faith, not from it. Regardless of whether you agree with her, Amina Wadud is undoubtably a pioneer in the fields of gender and Islam. It is her work that provides respite to the many souls facing ostracism within their communities. 


Writer: Alizeh Abdul Rahman of Mansfield College 

Editor and illustrator: Mary Whittingdale of Mansfield College 

(illustration based of AFP photograph of Wadud in prayer)