Identity politics, justice and the education of young Muslim women: Stories from the UK and Australia

Year: 2016

Author: Keddie, Amanda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores issues of identity, Islam, justice and the education of young Muslim women. It draws on qualitative research that represents the stories of female educators and young Muslim women from education contexts in the UK and Australia. These stories are located within broader public discourses in the west that reflect unprecedented levels of hostility and fear in relation to Islam. Such discourses have generated new equity challenges for schools and communities in their attempts to support Muslim girls and women who are bearing much of the brunt of current anti-Islamic sentiment. The work of key Muslim feminist scholars informs how the paper understands the complex and varied challenges confronting Muslim women. These scholars highlight, and seek to transform, racist, sexist and Islamophobic discourses through feminist interpretations of their religion. The paper examines how young Muslim women from within and beyond school settings are understanding, and finding spaces of agency within, these discourses with reference to their faith. The paper introduces the Islamic principle of ijtihad (jurisprudential interpretation of religious text) and the practice of feminist ijtihad as key to finding such spaces. Feminist ijtihad is a form of critical literacy that is powerful in supporting Muslim women to counter the Islamophobia and gendered Islamophobia in their lives. With the utility of this practice in mind, the paper presents a range of initiatives within and beyond schools that are supporting Muslim girls and women. The paper considers the possibilities of these initiatives in encouraging Muslim girls and women to be agents of change in terms of creating their own possibilities of social/gender justice. It also considers the problematics of these initiatives in terms of their potential to reinscribe disempowering gender and ethno-cultural relations. In light of the Islamophobia endemic in most western contexts such as Australia, the misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims within public discourse and the increased significance of faith and faith identity among Muslims worldwide, the focus of this paper is highly significant. These circumstances illuminate the imperative of improving knowledge and understandings about Islamic teachings and values particularly in relation to gender. They also highlight the imperative of providing greater opportunities for listening to Muslim women and girls who are finding spaces of agency within the religious, gendered and racialised discourses that shape their identities – it is these voices to which this paper turns.