New Article by Dr. Rampoldi on MintPress about Forgotten Female Rulers in Muslim History

Introduction: A Forgotten Study Of Female Political Power In Muslim History

by @promosaik_

Protesters, many female, with fists raised or holding Palestinian flags.

An introduction to a MyMPN series on Dr. Bahriye Üçok’s “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States,” now available in English.

For me personally, the history of ruling women in Muslim history is a
history of silence, exclusion, segregation and oblivion. Women strongly
participated in Muslim politics and social affairs in the first
generations after the Prophet Muhammad’s era. Then, step by step, the
androcentric interpretations of Quran and Sunnah put women aside and
caused their progressive horizontal segregation by prohibiting them
from participation in the social and political life of the Ummah.
For Islamic feminism today, it is of central importance to stress the
participation of women in Muslim history, and to show the
insurmountable obstacles they had to shoulder to fight for their
difficult and proscribed political career in male-dominated societies.
To rediscover socio-political female power in Muslim societies today, it
is essential to read books like “İslam Devletinde Kadın Hükümdarlar.”
It was written by Dr. Bahriye Üçok, a Turkish historian, Islam expert
and feminist in 1965, as PhD thesis at the University of Ankara — where
she also taught for years until her untimely in 1990 death by parcel
bomb at her house.

Her work seemed doomed to oblivion. Then Aygun Uzunlar, the Turkish
coordinator of the German intercultural and interreligious association
ProMosaik e.V., visited Miss Kumru Üçok, her daughter, in exactly the
same house in Ankara where the parcel bomb exploded so many years ago.
She gave him the permission to publish her mother’s book in English,
German and Italian.

Bahriye Üçok

With this first English publication, ProMosaik wants to contribute to
the gender dialogue in Islam and to an interreligious dialogue that
promotes justice and peace. In order to reaffirm the importance of
female political participation in our time, we must rediscover these
forgotten books about Muslim rulers in history.

I am firmly convinced that gender justice and equity, as I have already shown on the basis of Prof. al-Ansari’s essay about political rights of women in Islam and in my translation of Mahmud Badawi’s tragedy about the ruler Shajarat ad-Durr in Medieval Egypt,
is a vitally important aspect of a world dedicate to diversity, justice
and tolerance. For me, Islamic feminism essentially shows us the path
to an authentic gender justice which distinguishes itself from the
gender leveling practiced in Western feminism. Anyone who fights for
gender leveling instead of for an equity that respects differences
misses the point: man and woman are both different and complementary,
even if they are equal.
What’s great in Dr. Üçok’s book is her historical approach to the
matter of women and their political participation in Islam. It is
essential to start integrating different methods in Islamic feminism,
without limitation ourselves to the interpretation of Islamic sources
that often underestimate the importance of dynamic historical analysis
and the study of individual rulers.

If we go back to history and analyse ruling women’s lives, careers,
and personalities, we start understanding that women also participated
in politics in Muslim countries and were successful. We understand how
they fought for their careers, how they schemed, how they used
“Realpolitik” strategies to wield power. Starting from this historical
reality, we can see how Islam originally granted extended political
rights to women. Apart from this, we can also see the historical
dialectics between Islamic utopia and a Muslim political reality made of
thirst for conquest, domination and power.

In a positive sense, we should try to return to Islamic political
utopia by returning the rights of political participation to women in
Muslim countries today to empower them to overcome their segregation and
exclusion. The so-called horizontal segregation of women and their
total exclusion from political life were justified religiously by
manipulating and generalizing sources like the following hadith of the
Prophet Muhammad:

“Never will succeed such a nation as lets their affairs carried out by a woman.”

In my opinion, to understand this hadith properly, it has to be
inserted into the historical situation in which it was said. The Prophet
informed people that the Sassanid State, which was ruled by a woman,
would fall after a short while. As a matter of fact, it fell after a
short while. But from this historical fact you cannot deduct a general
exclusion of all women from political life in Islam.

An important proof for my thesis is given by the positive way in
which Balqis, the Queen of Sheba, is mentioned in the Quran. The Quranic
description of Balqis, who for me represents the first Islamic ruler in
an etymologic sense, makes us clearly understand that the hadith of the
Prophet mentioned above regarding the issue of political, female
participation was not intended as a general judgment.
Therefore, there is not a definite and binding verse or hadith that
prohibits a woman from working for the public, and as a consequence from
ruling a Muslim State. At this point I would like to remember what
Benazir Bhutto said when she affirmed that it is exactly the Islamic
tradition which strengthens her today in her fight for women’s rights in
Muslim politics.

The androcentric point that demands total exclusion of women from
Islamic politics, which has succeeded for centuries, starts from two
very daring conclusions I would like to refute. As we’ve already seen,
according to this tradition, women should not be allowed to govern
because their governance means that empires “will never” prosper.

However, there is an additional interpretation relating to the
exclusion of women based on Quran, Sunnah and the consensus of Muslim
scholars on Quranic verse 4:34. This verse does not even relate to
politics but to the relationship between genders in marriage, in which
only the husband must financially support the family.

This verse says:

“Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one
over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth.
So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s]
absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom
you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist],
forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you
[once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted
and Grand.”

From the housewife who has to guard the husband’s property during his
absence and to listen to him because he is financially in charge of
her, many traditional scholars monistically deduct the un-political
woman, who is not allowed to participate in politics and society, by
completely ignoring female participation in politics in history.

These scholars even go a step further by affirming that female rule is even haram, i.e.
forbidden by Sharia law, although a general prohibition of female
participation in Islamic politics is not affirmed at all, neither in the
Quran nor in the Sunnah. However, they take another step by affirming
that “women do not have the intellectual and personal skills required by
a ruler.” This, of course, cannot be true because it is contrary to
Quran 4:1 saying: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one
soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many
men and women,” thereby affirming the gender equity on a creational

In opposition to all those interpretations which are contrary to
authentic sources of Islam, let us in addition have a look at Muslim
history: let us read the stories written by this Turkish author about
women ruling in Muslim States from India to Egypt, from Bhopal to
Salgur, from Acheen to Kutluk, to quote a couple of examples.

Let us understand Islam as a religion based on gender equity, by
discovering the biographies and political struggles of women in Islamic
countries, women who had to fight in a misogynist environment. What
ProMosaik considers the great contribution made by Dr. Üçok is this: her
historical analysis of the countries and cultural environments,
conditions and methods according to which women ruled states during
Muslim history.

In this series of articles, we will introduce the biographies of all women the author alludes to in her precious book.

If you are interested in reading the book you can find it on Amazon here.