The Reading of Asma Barlas
This chapter explores the Qur’anic commentary of the Pakistani American intellectual Asma Barlas. After providing some historical and biographical background, it unpacks her interpretive method. Like all the commentators studied, Barlas privileges the Qur’an in her Islamic discourse, and this chapter systematically outlines the hermeneutical strategies that she uses to expound scripture. The chapter argues that although Wadud and Barlas both undertake gender egalitarian readings, Barlas is engaged in a substantively different (though complementary) project. For whereas Wadud explores the subject of woman in the Qur’an, Barlas interrogates the relationship between the text and patriarchy. After examining Barlas’ usage of tawhid (monotheism) as a core theological paradigm, the chapter critiques an essentialist tendency in her exegesis. The chapter ends by exploring her holistic approach to social justice, arguing that this approach stems from her engagement in ‘double critique’, or speaking truth to power in both Muslim and non-Muslim Western contexts.
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