Zahra Ayubi, "Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society" (Columbia UP, 2019)


How are notions of justice and equality constructed in Islamic virtue ethics (akhlaq)? How are Islamic virtue ethics gendered, despite their venture into perennial concerns of how best to live a good and ethical life? These are the questions that Zahra Ayubi, an assistant professor of religion at Dartmouth college, examines in her new book Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society (Columbia University Press, 2019). Using akhlaq literature by al-Ghazali, Davani and Tusi, Ayubi closely studies the ways in which these male Muslim scholars constructed ideas of the self (nafs), particularly in relation to the family and the society. Despite the ethicists’ differing sectarian and theological orientations in Islam, they still concluded that the status of a perfect ethical human was only achievable by a male elite. Meaning that the capacity to utilize rational faculty, which is central to self-refinement, was deemed not accessible to females, slaves, and non-elite males. In unpacking these gendered and hierarchical dynamics around ethics and comportment, Aybui masterfully applies feminist and gender analysis to deconstruct ethical texts. In light of her findings, she calls for a “philosophical turn” that must employ critical gender analysis when reading these texts not only in the context of Islamic philosophy, but broadly in the study of Islam. The book is a must read for scholars and students interested in Islamic philosophy and gender and Islamic studies.

M. Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religion 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 (Bloomsbury 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 on here and here. She may be reached at

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Shobhana Xavier

Shobhana Xavier is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Queen’s University. More details about her research and scholarship may be found here. She may be reached at You can follow her on Twitter via @shobhanaxavier.

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