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Women issuing fatwas: female Islamic sholars and community-based authority in Java, Indonesia

On 12 January 2023 ms. Nor Ismah successfully defended a doctoral thesis and graduated.

Nor Ismah
12 January 2023
Leiden Repository

This dissertation deals with the legitimacy of Muslim women as Islamic scholars (ulama) and the right ascribed to them by society to interpret religious texts and issue fatwas. The study is therefore concerned with the concept of religious authority and how this is modulated through gender. Using a combined anthropological, religious studies, and gender lens, it examines how and why women issue fatwas in different spaces of interaction including women’s branches of Islamic organizations and institutions, local communities, and women’s magazines. The main argument of this dissertation is that, both at the grassroots and in the public sphere, Muslim women in Indonesia play an increasingly influential role as ulama. Although their role is not often recognized by men, once we privilege the perspective of women a completely different picture emerges, one in which women are granted religious authority that turns out to be as strong as that of male ulama in issuing fatwas. Their authority is, on the one hand, a community-based authority contingent on local concerns and networks of knowledge. Yet on the other hand these women also contribute to a larger effort, namely the creation of a national network of Indonesian female ulama.

Promotor: prof. dr. Nico Kaptein.

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