"Revisiting Religion and Politics in Islam: The Case of Arwa al-Sulayhi, the 12th century Ismaili Shii Queen and Hujja of Yaman"
Fri, November 11, 2011 • 3:00 PM • Texas Union, Sinclair Suite (3.128)
A talk by Sumaiya Hamdani, Associate Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University.
The relationship of religion and politics in Islam is rarely if ever explored with regard to women, if only because both increasingly became the exclusive preserve of men from the second century of Islam (hijri, 8th century CE). Scholars have tended to attribute this to a variety of reasons, among them professionalization of religious and political offices, a de facto separation of “church” and state, and the rise generally of misogynistic attitudes within the Muslim community as reflected in the elaboration of Islam’s normative texts from this time on. In a seemingly stunning departure from the consensus about the exclusion of women from religion and politics, there is the case of Arwa al-Sulayhi, known as al-Malika Sayyida al-Hurra, who reigned as both supreme political (malika) and religious (hujjat al-imam) authority in Yaman from 1084-1138 CE. In exploring the historical material on Arwa al-Sulayhi, and in particular a defense of her authority by a contemporary religious dignitary, it is possible to not only recover the experience of a “women worthy” as many of the biographical studies on her have done, but also to question some of the assumptions about the uniformity of experience with regard to women in Islamic history, and what that implies about the relationship of religion to politics in Islam generally.
Dr. Hamdani's book, Between Revolution and State: the Construction of Fatimid Legitimacy (I.B. Tauris 2006) examines the development of legal and historical literature by the Ismaili Shi’i Fatimid state. Her research has also included articles and reviews in the fields of Shi’i thought, Islamic thought in general, Islamic history and women in Islam. Her current research examines the construction of identity in Muslim minority communities in South Asia during the colonial and post-colonial periods.