Negotiating Shīʿī Identity and Orthodoxy through Canonizing Ideologies about Women in Twelver Shīʿī Aḥādīth on Pre-Islamic Sacred History in the Qurʾān
Date: 28 August 2015
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
Shīʿī aḥādīth, particularly on women, are an immensely understudied area. Studies on Shīʿī aḥādīth on women usually centre on Fāṭimah al-Zahrāʾ, and little research explores pre-Islamic sacred female figures in Shīʿī aḥādīth. At the same time, there an urgent interest in Shīʿism as well as women in Islam, and a desire for new methods ...
Shīʿī aḥādīth, particularly on women, are an immensely understudied area. Studies on Shīʿī aḥādīth on women usually centre on Fāṭimah al-Zahrāʾ, and little research explores pre-Islamic sacred female figures in Shīʿī aḥādīth. At the same time, there an urgent interest in Shīʿism as well as women in Islam, and a desire for new methods to be applied as well as new questions to be asked. This thesis will analyse Shīʿī aḥādīth about women in pre-Islamic sacred history who appear in the Qurʾān (focusing on Eve, Sārah, Hājar, Zulaykhā, Bilqīs, and the Virgin Mary), and apply the methodologies of ideological criticism and feminist hermeneutics (to be explained in Chapter 1) to explore the subtexts about the essential nature and role of women communicated through these narrations. In addition to exploring the roots of these ideas, it will compare them against the contemporary Shīʿī ideology of gender referred to as the ‘separate-but-equal’ ideology to explore how well this ideology corresponds to Shīʿī narrations. (What constitutes an ‘ideology’ will be explored in Chapter 1.) Rather than attempting to derive the ‘authentic’ teachings of the Prophet or the Imāms, this study will take a stance of inauthenticity with respect to narrations and treat narrations as socio-cultural artefacts representing the diversity of views and beliefs of the Shīʿī community. This distinguishes it from other works which either attempt to derive the ‘authentic’ teachings of the Prophet, or else which presume that all narrations equally reflect what the Prophet and Imāms actually said. This avoids the sticky question of which narrations are actually ‘true’ and allows them to be treated equally as cultural artifacts in negotiating a Shīʿī ideology of gender. Because this study focuses on sacred female figures shared with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it allows for the exploration of how ideas about women from outside the Islamic tradition were integrated into the Shīʿī corpus through isrāʾīlīyāt, particularly through the intertextual synthesis of pre-Islamic material (such as the Bible) with post-Prophetic notions (such as normative paradigms of jurisprudential discourse). Two trends will emerge from these narrations. The first heavily reinforces patriarchal norms, such as women’s seclusion, the need for male authority, and male guardianship over women. These narrations reflect jurisprudential discourse and are largely found in two of the four most prominent books of Shīʿī ḥadīth, al-Kāfī and al-Faqīh. However, in the second, other narrations form a ‘counter-narrative’ in which women and men are portrayed as equals; these narrations invoke the imagery of esoteric Shīʿism and focus on the narrative of wilāyah (loyalty to and love of the Prophet, Fāṭimah al-Zahrāʾ, and the Shīʿī Imāms). Since both sets of narrations address uniquely Shīʿī concerns, such as the Imāmate, it can be deduced that these differing portrayals of women reflect competing concerns in the early and mediaeval Shīʿī communities with respect to determining Shīʿī identity and orthodoxy, and may also reflect the spread of and resistance to Arabization. Lastly, because many narrations attributed to Imam ʿAlī convey strikingly different views about women, the penultimate chapter will explore whether Imam ʿAlī was misogynistic through a comparison of two foundational Shīʿī texts: Kitāb Sulaym ibn Qays al-Hilālī (c. 100 AH) and Nahj al-Balāghah (c. 400 AH).
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