Progressive Islam: A Critical View from Latin Muslim Feminists by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente & Eren Cervantes-Altamirano

Progressive Islam(s) in the West, particularly in Canada and the US, have been defined as movements that primarily encompass Islamic feminism(s), LGBTQI affirming movements, anti-Conservative theologies, feminist theologies, women-centered liturgies, etc. From within this umbrella, we have seen calls to embrace women-led prayers, women-only spaces, LGBTIQ inclusive and affirming mosques and practices like ijtihad, which are said to be useful in breaking away from Conservative understandings of Islam. All in all, Progressive movements often depict themselves as “reformers” within a paradigm that is usually conceived to be dominated by Orthodox theologies and attitudes mainly driven by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

However, to what degree are Progressive movements truly inclusive? Are they as “radical” as they have been made out to be? Are Progressive spaces any safer for women and trans-women? Are Progressives free of misogyny and violence? Continue reading “Progressive Islam: A Critical View from Latin Muslim Feminists by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente & Eren Cervantes-Altamirano”

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.

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