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Secular Muslim Feminists in Majority Muslim Societies

   School of Social Sciences

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  Dr Hind Elhinnawy  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

In majority-Muslim societies, the notion of ‘secularism’ has acquired strong negative connotations due to its association with the suppression of Islamic influences by the colonial powers. Furthermore, many Muslims argue that, unlike Christianity, Islam does not separate religion from the state thus welcome a significant role for Islam in their countries’ political life. As such, feminists adopting ‘secular’ ideologies face challenges grounded, first, in the patriarchal traditions that subordinate them as women, and second, in the popularity of Islamic feminism, a feminist discourse and practise articulated within an Islamic paradigm, which has gained tract in the 80s with the rise of Islamism globally. In light of this, secular Muslim feminists are dismissed and accused of holding anti-Islamic views. In some cases, they are subject to prison sentences. Contemporary secular Muslim feminists are a progressive voice that, if heard, understood, and supported, could become the seed of a movement that ignites change and improves gender equality in these contexts. By understanding the narratives, ideologies, experiences, and challenges of contemporary secular Muslim feminists who resist patriarchal and fundamentalist structures from non-religious standpoints, innovative approaches toward the improvement of gender equality in majority-Muslim societies could be suggested, by using these examples. 

In this project, the aim is to understand: 

  • How have these feminists arrived at their ‘secular’ standpoints, and what are the similarities and differences in their journeys? 
  • How do they position themselves within the socio-political and historical debates they are embedded in, as opposed to feminists who work from religious standpoints? 
  • How do they navigate through and resist the various structures and challenges within their societies? 

To address these questions, the plan is to employ an integrative ethnographic methodology that incorporates life-story interviews with secular Muslim feminists, critical discourse analysis of the literature by and about them, and photovoice, a qualitative method that uses photographs taken by participants to reflect upon and explore their everyday life experiences. The project could be carried out in any majority-Muslim country, where the researcher has established contacts, or a country where the director of studies has established contacts, i.e. Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. 

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