Women Claim Islam By Miriam Cooke (New York: Routledge, 2001. 175 pages.)

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Jasmin Zine

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Abstract

This book embarks on a sojourn into the stories and autobiographies of Arab
women writers who "claim Islam" by "writing themselves into the history
of the twentieth century." Being situated outside their nations' historical narratives,
Cooke examines the literary practices of Arab Muslim women who
have entered into global political discourses as vibrant public intellectuals,
rather than as history's invisible subtext. According to her, Arab Muslim
women "have been left out of history, out of the War Story, out of the narratives
of emigration and exile, out of the physical and hermeneutical spaces
of religion." Thus Muslim women intellectuals and writers are challenging
the erasures of their experiences in the public and discursive spaces of
nation, community, and faith.
Cooke argues that women have become the "symbolic center" in societies
increasingly dominated by Islamic discourse. But while this discourse
gives "unprecedented importance to women," it also centers them as pivotal
to the "virtuous Muslim community" and thereby dictates constricting rules
for their "appropriate behavior." This has resulted in a preoccupation with
regulating and policing women's bodies (clearly evident in Talibanized
Afghanistan). Yet at the same time, shifting women's experiences from the
margins to the center of discursive focus has allowed their voices to emerge
in new ways. 1n many cases, this stakes their claim to a more empowering
Islamic identity. This movement has allowed Muslim women writers and
intellectuals to develop a gendered Islamic epistemology. According to
Cooke, these women "do not challenge the sacrality of the Qur'an, but they
do examine the temporality of its interpretations." ...

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