This review was originally published at Muslim Views.
Research in the areas of Islamic and Gender Studies often overlap when it comes to the question of women in the Islamic spiritual tradition. What does Sufism offer to men and women seeking out paths of equality and egalitarianism? How does maleness or femaleness influence spirituality, and is the notion of the un-gendered soul a tenable one in the context of a hyper-gendered legal tradition? Is it possible to go beyond socially instituted gender norms, to more fundamental questions about what it means to be a human being, and use these notions to then create new gender discourses? These are some of the questions Dr Sa’diyya Shaikh, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Religious Studies department, grapples with in her latest publication, Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender and Sexuality. She handles the complex spheres of gender and Sufism with the intellectual finesse and critical maturity required for such an endeavour, displaying an in-depth working knowledge of the tradition.
Shaikh provides a unique and ground-breaking reading of the works of thirteenth century Andalusian Arab Muslim scholar, Sufi saint and philosopher Muḥyiddin Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Arabi (d.1240). Shaikh reads his work through a feminist lens by which she focuses on the question of gendered roles and functionalities in the Islamic tradition – going beyond the legal trappings into more ontological questions that she feels must be answered in order to reshape and redefine contemporary understandings of Islam and gender justice. [Read more...]