A Most Masculine State Gender, Politics, and Religion in Saudi Arabia By Madawi Al-Rashid (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 333 pages.)

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Amr G. E. Sabet

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Abstract

This book examines the “plight” of women and gender relations in an attempt
to give voice to an excluded and marginalized group in the closed and conservative
society of Saudi Arabia (pp. 1, 2). Al-Rashid problematizes the
“woman question,” designating it as both a state and a social problem that defies
consensus regarding its causes and solutions, where giving voice becomes
the first step toward reclaiming denied rights. She contextualizes her study by
looking at the historical roots and “interconnection between gender, politics,
and religion that shapes and perpetuates the persistent exclusion of Saudi
women” (p. 3). By so doing, Al-Rashid essentially depicts the roots of this
“extreme form of gender inequality” as structural and related to the complex
relationship between the Saudi state and the Wahhabi religious establishment.
This relationship, which takes the form of religious nationalism, provided for
a narrow definition and interpretation of just who was entitled to belong to the pious community. Narrow interpretations of rituals and jurisprudence, as
well as how gender relations are to be conducted or acquire validity, both created
and exacerbated the social and religious boundaries within Saudi society
and between it and other Muslim cultural interpretations ...

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