The Unforgettable Queens of Islam: Succession, Authority and Gender
(Cambridge University Press, 2020) by Shahla Haeri
(Associate Professor of Anthropology at Boston University) is a captivating book on the biographies of Muslim women rulers and political leaders. Drawing from extensive historical archives as well as from ethnographic research, Haeri reflects on the legacy of the hadith that says, “never will succeed a nation as makes a woman their ruler.” The book includes stories of Muslim women leaders in classical period, such as Queen of Sheba and ‘A’isha, and in medieval era, such as Queen Arwa of Yemen and Razia Sultan of India to challenge us to rethink gendered political authority across the Muslim world.
In historically situating these biographies and also the contemporary popular legacies of Muslim women who were political and at times religious rulers, Haeri showcases how such political authority did not always rest solely on religious tradition but rather hinged on dynastic power and succession, as well as patriarchal familial support and privilege. Additionally, the biographies of contemporary Muslim women’s leadership through dynastic political succession, such as of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia further complicates how religious, legal, and political discourses are used as justifications and/or even weaponized against Muslim women’s authority and power in political and public office by religious and, peculiarly, by secular opposing political figures and movements. The book is a great resource for courses on gender and Islam, but also will be of interest for those who think and write on Islam, gender, politics, sovereignty, and much more.
Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Queen’s University. Her research areas are on contemporary Sufism in North America and South Asia. She is the author of Sacred Spaces and Transnational Networks in American Sufism (Bloombsury Press, 2018) and a co-author of Contemporary Sufism: Piety, Politics, and Popular Culture (Routledge, 2017). More details about her research and scholarship may be found here and here. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter via @shobhanaxavier