Isobel Coleman, in her book Paradise Beneath Her Feet, describes Islamic Feminism as an “important emotional and intellectual stepping-stone—and tactic—to meet the demands of the modern world[footnoteRef:1].” According to Coleman, this movement found its intellectual beginning in the late 19thth century with the rise of Muslim scholars who attempted to reform Islamic tradition and meet the needs of modern society through the reinterpretation of the basic principles of Islam[footnoteRef:2]. The role of women in an Islamic society was one of the most controversial issues that emerged in the modern era as Islamic societies faced immense criticism for their treatment of women particularly the existence of social seclusion, heavy veiling, and the practice of polygamy. The response of most modern Islamic scholars, and Coleman highlights a series of them, was to acknowledge that the oppression of women did in fact exist in the Muslim world, but it had no basis in the Islam. Modern Islamic scholars believed that the Muslim scholars over the course of Islamic history developed a strong resistance to change, which was to blame for the backwardness of the Islamic community. What these reformists were advocating for, however, was indeed a radical notion - that the Quran could be revisited and understood in a new light. [1: Paradise Beneath her Feet 275] [2: Paradise Beneath Her Feet 41]
Coleman argues that Islamic feminism is fundamentally an extension of this earlier intellectual movement which considers gender equality as a value inherently found in Islam but one that is overshadowed by the patriarchal practices and conservative interpretations of the religious establishment[footnoteRef:3]. She sees critical engagement with and reinterpretation of sacred Islamic texts as one of the defining characteristics of Islamic feminism. In one of her interviews, Coleman explains, “What many of the men and women today are trying to do within Islam is argue that times change, and you have to read them [Islamic texts] differently. You have to think about them in the present, not only in the past, and find new meanings and new ways to circle that square.” As compared to secular feminism, which Coleman sees as largely a province of urban elites and intellectuals, Islamic feminism has a broader appeal as it is able to work within the values of Islam while at the same time challenging aspects of traditional Islamic orthodoxy[footnoteRef:4]. In this way, according to Coleman, Islamic feminism succeeds where secular movements have failed to do so. [3: Paradise Beneath Her Feet 40 ] [4: Paradise 85]
Similar to Coleman, Margot Badran defines Islamic feminism as “a feminist discourse practiced and articulated within an Islamic paradigm” and grounded in the re-interpretation of the Quran. What Badran emphasizes more than other scholars is the concept of full human equality that forms the core of Islamic feminism and that, according to her, is not found...