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Alyssa Gabbay

Aug 7, 2020

Gender and Succession in Medieval and Early Modern Islam

Bilateral Descent and the Legacy of Fatima

I. B. Tauris 2020

In this episode, we speak with Alyssa Gabbay about her recent new book Gender and Succession in Medieval and Early Modern Islam: Bilateral Descent and the Legacy of Fatima (I.B. Tauris, 2020). The book shows that contrary to assumptions about Islam’s patrilineal nature, there is in fact precedent in pre-modern Islamic history of Muslims' recognition of bilateral descent, or descent from both the mother and the father – though, of course, bilateral descent was by no means universally acknowledged.

Although not the only example of this argument, Muhammad’s daughter Fatima is essential to the study because of her status in both Sunni and Shi’i societies historically as well as because especially Shi’is have used the example of Fatima, through whom Muhammad’s lineage can be traced, to argue in support of bilateral descent. In our conversation, we discuss the concept of bilateral descent and its three components of women as mothers, heiresses, and successors; Fatima’s relevance and significance to the discussion of descent and as a representative of bilateral descent; parallels between Mary the mother of Jesus and other pious women in Muslim history; Fatima’s claim to fadak as her inheritance and its impact on Sunni and Shi’i history; and female rulers in Muslim history. The book would make for an enjoyable and educational read for anyone interested in gender studies, Islam and gender, female authority, biographical studies, medieval Islam, and Islamic history, and would make for a great resource for both undergraduate and graduate Islam courses.

Shehnaz Haqqani is Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. Her primary research areas include Islam, gender, and questions of change and tradition in Islam. She also vlogs on YouTube; her videos focus on dismantling the patriarchy and are available at: She can be reached at

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Shehnaz Haqqani

Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at

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