Debating Gender… settling in a book

As a student of Islamic philosophy, I embarked on a research journey during my master’s program at the Freie University of Berlin that delved into the fascinating world of Islamic philosophy. Little did I know that this exploration would challenge my perceptions and lead me to question the role of women in Islam. As I am holding the research in my hand as a printed book today, many years now after its original completion.  I would like to share my personal journey and the insights I gained while examining Al Ghazali’s, Ibn Taymiyya’s, and Ibn Rushd’s views on women. Like many devout Muslims, I grew up considering al-Ghazālī’s writings, particularly his magnum opus Ihya’ Ulum al-Din, as a guiding light in understanding and practicing my faith. His teachings provided solace and clarity whenever I faced challenges in interpreting and following the rules of Islam in my daily life. However, my perspective on al-Ghazālī took an unexpected turn when I embarked on an academic paper exploring the status of Muslim women in Jerusalem, analyzing the influence of tradition and religion. It was during this research that I encountered criticisms of al-Ghazālī’s views by feminist scholars like Fatima Mernissi. The shock and confusion I experienced led me to question whether my language skills had failed me or if there was another al-Ghazālī I was unaware of. To uncover the truth, I delved into extensive research on al-Ghazālī, attempting to demystify the myth surrounding this revered scholar, even as his followers staunchly defended his legacy. As I delved deeper, I discovered a range of opinions among scholars who claimed allegiance to al-Ghazālī. Some identified with Sufism, making them appear mystical, while others followed a moderate interpretation of Islam, creating an impression of liberalism. Al-Ghazālī is often celebrated as a “Muhyi” (Reviver) and a “Hujjat al-Islam” (proof of Islam) in today’s Muslim world, praised for combating fanatical fundamentalism. However, attempting to classify Islamic scholars into either al-Ghazālī’s or Ibn Taymiyya’s camps oversimplifies the complex nature of their teachings and their impact on women’s issues. Motivated by the contradictions surrounding al-Ghazālī, I focused my research on exploring his works, paying particular attention to his views on women. In doing so, I encountered the works of feminist scholars like Fatima Mernissi and Nawal Sa’dawi, who provided critical analysis and challenged traditional interpretations of al-Ghazālī’s teachings. To gain a comprehensive understanding, I compared medieval perspectives on women from al-Ghazālī, Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn Rushd, whose progressive ideas often stood in contrast to those of al-Ghazālī. I also explored how Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle influenced these scholars’ views and the subsequent impact on women’s status. The research not only shed light on historical debates but also prompted a reflection on the current status of Muslim women. By examining the works of contemporary Islamic feminist scholars, I aimed to assess the enduring effects of medieval thinkers on present-day attitudes and perceptions. My journey through the intricate labyrinth of al-Ghazālī’s thoughts on women was both enlightening and challenging. It reminded me of the importance of critically examining revered figures in the Islamic tradition and acknowledging the diverse interpretations within their teachings. By exploring the works of feminist scholars alongside medieval perspectives, I hope to contribute to a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of women’s roles and rights within Islam. In this endeavor, I am deeply grateful to Carlos Fraenkel and Markus Wachowski, esteemed mentors and guides during my master’s program in Islamic philosophy. Their expertise, scholarly advice, and insightful feedback played an instrumental role in shaping the trajectory of my research.Their insightful feedback, thought-provoking discussions, and dedication to fostering intellectual growth have been invaluable. I am truly indebted to their wisdom and guidance. 
I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Sa’d Abdel Hadi, my esteemed friend and publisher supervisor, for his unwavering support, guidance, and expertise throughout the printing process. 
Lastly, I would like to extend my profound thanks to my daughters, Yasmina and Serena. Their unwavering support, understanding, and patience were essential pillars of strength throughout this research journey. They endured countless hours of my absence, as I delved into my studies. 

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