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The Noble Struggle of Amina Wadud

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Kino Safari
Directed by Elli Safari
DVD, color, 29 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Religious Studies, African American Studies, Human Rights, Gender Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Kayo Denda, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 12/20/2007

This powerful documentary focuses on Amina Wadud, an African-American Muslim scholar and activist, who shocked the Islamic world by leading mixed gender Friday prayer congregation in New York in 2005. The defiance to Islamic tradition brought death threats and violence against her. The film, through interviews with Wadud and her colleagues and friends, presents the debate of Islam and the limited role of women, and the differences between Islam as embraced by the immigrant Muslim and African-American communities. The film also presents a human side of this accomplished woman with exemplary works on the intersection of Islam and feminism.

Wadud’s position on the issue surrounding women and Islam is that the notions of patriarchy, gender segregation, misogyny, and marginalization of women differ from the true canon of Islam. These discriminatory stances that erase women’s voices have been used politically to the advantage of religious leaders who are all men. Wadud expresses the need for more gender mainstreaming in public and private for all men and women. She also advocates for “horizontal reciprocity” of gender relations where men and women are equal in the name of God. Wadud posits that religious symbols such as gender segregated prayers and the use of hijab and long dresses for women are elements appropriated by men to justify their power. These artifacts do not represent in any way measures of one’s faith or religious dedication. In some ways, her commitment to gender justice in Islam mirrors the struggles of racial justice in the civil rights movement.

Wadud makes a distinction on the role and interpretation of Islam in African-American communities as compared to immigrant Americans. While African-Americans, including herself, were attracted to Islam during the civil rights movement for the notion of racial justice as expressed by leaders such as Malcolm X, immigrant Americans, according to Wadud, seek Islam for the authority. She refrains from passing any judgment on this matter and simply delineates differences in position and the fact that the Muslim community, as any community, is diverse, constituted by people with heterogeneous expectations and religious commitments.

The camera captures intimate scenes including ones at her home in Virginia, a hair salon, and in exchanges with friends as a counterpoint to professional scenes from university classrooms at Virginia Commonwealth University, and academic conferences, providing a personal dimension to this scholar/activist. Powerful resource for discussion on topics in religious studies, African-American studies, gender studies, human rights, and women’s studies.