Gender Jihad and Epistemic Justice by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


In previous articles I have developed my personal perspective on Islamic feminism as a third narrative pathway that responds to the two traditional hegemonic discourses that exist on Muslim women, which I call “idealization of inequality” and “demonization of Islam

The search for gender justice within the framework of Islam has been called Gender Jihad is focused on installing a legal and social equality for Muslim women and groups or identities in the otherness, in line with the equality of divine origin established in the Qur’an. I think this socio-political equality begins with unpacking the epistemic violence prevailing in religious narratives that affects the representations and validation of women and persons in the otherness as equals, ie, like people, like men, the discursive and biopolitics referent of what is “Humankind”.

Islamic feminism is a narrative that provides answers to the epistemic violence represented by the speeches of idealization and demonization. As Gayatri Spiviak said, such epistemic violence is an orchestrated, widespread and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject, as other. Women in religion are colonized subjects. Epistemic violence leads to epistemic injustice that results in unfair practices such as, for example, considering that the testimony of some people is less credible because they belong to certain gender, based on a distorted image of the other, which dehumanizes the individuals who are giving testimony.

The Gender Jihad posed by Islamic Feminisms seeks to establish a declaratory place that is an authentic expression of the agencies women and people in the otherness in relation to a hegemony with a strong colonial bias, represented for the narratives of idealization and demonization. Gender Jihad is the building of an episteme, understanding the right of Muslim women to enunciate and interpret a reality that challenges them, for and by themselves since, as Amina Wadud says “defining religion is to have power over it.”

This discursive possibility is possible thanks to the Tawhidic paradigm developed by Amina Wadud in the early 90s and  in her book “Qur’an and Woman,” a methodology that can decolonize fields of  knowledge, bodies and representational policies of the mainstream narrative about Muslim women and Others.

The merit of her paradigm, among many, is to systematize existing concepts in the Muslim cosmogony, in a way that provides a frame for gender analysis from Islamic theology and promoting the empowerment of women through it. Recognizing, on the one hand, the inherent equality of women as human beings, it gives theological support to a legal equality that for centuries have been at the discretion of Muslim scholars. On the other, it enables women, through rescuing Ijtihad, in our enunciation and narrative capacity as religious subjects. If humans are equal before God, then Women and Others are, by divine right, equally able to read, decipher, interpret and convey their perspective on religious matters.

There cannot be any political transformation, without having an equal right to speak, equal freedom to express thoughts, equal entitlement of movement of the body and ideas, equal agency to occupy material and symbolic spaces, without restrictions.

There can be no Gender Jihad without appropriating the  readings and discourses on gender, religion and jihad.

Gender Jihad begins with the recovery of the right to say and represent, therefore, is a struggle that could have as a prior aim the acquiring of epistemic justice.

This is relevant because “Who can speak” will mark simultaneously “on what terms that person talk.” What concepts and meanings can be used within the framework of the construction of a particular view of reality? What terms become the lens for discerning reality: development, democracy, gender equality, civil society, religion, social agency, etc. Only and exclusively from the enunciation (the power to speak) and from the ability to define the context in which speaking occurs, can one have a voice, that is, be a subject.

This framework for a new reality, based on the epistemic justice, will allow Muslim women to define their own place and have a voice to counteract epistemic injustice. Wadud offers a system of hermeneutic model that enables a “who can speak” and “on what terms” from an interpretation of the Quran from a gender perspective, which recognizes Muslim women agency to define and interpret religion, to build a speech based in empowerment and to rise as “political individuals of faith,” establishing a mapping for the construction of a reality in which they position themselves as people, beyond stereotypes and myths.

Image: Women Fighting Demons – Caitlin Conolly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional feminist interested in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work adresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.

Author: Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Consultora en desarrollo de capacidades. Educadora y analista en género, participación ciudadana y desarrollo sostenible en el marco de la Agenda 2030.

15 thoughts on “Gender Jihad and Epistemic Justice by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

  1. Thank you as always for your work and thoughts. Also, thanks for the shout out. I should probably say, the tawhidic paradigm was developed most comprehensively in my book Inside the Gender Jihad and not in Qur’an and Woman, where it was minimally introduced. In case anyone is interests to follow up. Salaam, amina


  2. Molo (Xhosa Greeting) sis’Vanessa (sister Vanessa)

    The intersectionalities in your work are complex and offer fruitful discussion points. Beyond the discussion, the real ability to effect change is done through a reimagining of the Muslim Woman.
    I love the notion of decolonisation, and the violence that has come from epistemic impositions (knowledge systems forceably maintained in discourse.
    I’m interested in the transformation of this paradigm from here.

    Enkosi (Xhosa Thank You).


  3. I have followed Wadud’s writing closely and I am so appreciative to see her receive some of the credit that she richly deserves. another take is that both her books men of good will to stand up and correct the crooked road that not only denied women’s rights but also human rights. thank you bring these issues to light while we focus on Muslim displacements, bombs killing innocent civilians, and many women going through hell again


  4. Though I am an academic, I was not born one, nor did I grow up speaking like one. Thus, I always attempt to speak in words that ordinary people or at least ordinary somewhat educated people can understand. “Epistemic” is not one of those words. Indeed, even academics must constantly familiarize themselves with constantly changing academic jargon. To me this is a form of mystification and gate-keeping. Can’t we just say women (and everyone else) must have the right to speak and to interpret texts in relation to their own experiences and their inherent right to equality?

    What is your experience with this term in non-academic settings?

    Judith Plaskow once commented after a lecture she heard on deconstructionism, “I wanted to get up and say: can’t you put it in terms that any ordinary person with a PhD from Yale can understand?”


    1. I am an ordinary person, I come from non academic settings, as and I speak as I want. Don’t get why this bothers you and become more relevant that the ideas exposed in the article. Why to question my “experience”? Why do I have to prove that I am entitled to speak and choose given words?


    2. I get where you coming from and there is a wide gulf between the non-academic and the academic. This gulf is unfortunate. Historically many of the academics taught in the public square and provided guidance and education to all. Presently, many of the academics are swallowed up by institutions of academia that erect “Ivory Towers” where academics are sequestered and only teach to a special few in classrooms. I did not find Vanessa article to fit in that kind of encryption. I found her article refreshing and to the point. I may be biased due to the fact that I am currently involved in a literature search with a huge dictionary. Based on your input I will try to recall and use words in context for all. Thanks for your contribution.


      1. I would like to add to what you say that I am very serious in my contribution to this site so I add links and extra information whenever is possible to clarify some concepts and give some references that in the term of 1000 words sometimes I dont have space to explain further. Also, I am aware of what I write so is a bit disappointing to be put under a presumption of incompetence. I am someone who is not an academic and I am surprising how much it bothers that a woman who is working class and has made her path from the grass roots like me dares to use a sophisticated term.


        1. I love the article and shared with friends, some are academics (colleagues) and some have no college education. The message, in my opinion, was an important one in terms of inclusiveness that needed to be shared and I wished that my community would revisit this work. Keep on doing what you’re doing.


          1. Thank you very much. I think we should focus in the content: Many people, especially those in the otherness has been denied the right to speak or they are not heard when they don’t express in the way the hegemony and privileged want and expect. This is a major problem when we talk about equality. Injustice starts in language and representation. Salaam


          2. Agreed. There is a dominant narrative that champions sexism, racism, and othering of people for ridiculous reasons: ppl shouting make America great again and not one Native American represented in this discussion.
            It’s really unraveling when one speaks about the “American Dream”.


          3. That’s a great example. How the representation of “America” has been done excluding the original american. Is when people call the USA “America” excluding millions of Latinxs and Caribbeans. Racism and exclusion began here in what we say when we talk and specially in what we don’t say but we confirm, in your example, that native-americans are not part of America


          4. Dr.TA Bashir Co Director: Islamic Certificate Program, New York Theological Seminary (NYTS) Coordinator NYTS DV Task Force Founder and Co Director, House of Peace,Inc ( est. 9/11) A Gender Equality Organization 718 276 6135 (phone & fax) President, Muslim Advisory Committee(MAC).



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