Through an extensive analysis of early biographical dictionaries and histories, hÌ£adiÌ„th collections and commentaries, as well as legal texts, I reconstruct the life of a female jurist from the third generation of Muslims. It was through informal networks of kin- ship and scholarship that Ê¿Amrah bint Ê¿Abd al-RahÌ£maÌ„n (d. 106/724) contributed to the core of Islamic knowledge in ways similar to her male contemporaries, while she also served as a resource within the community for the gender-specific concerns of women. The depth of her knowledge established Ê¿Amrahâ€™s narrations as reliable evidence of the Prophet MuhÌ£ammadâ€™s conduct and endowed her own opinions and deeds with an authoritative weight respected by contemporaries and subsequent generations of Muslim scholars.
With the active support and intervention of Turkeyâ€™s Directorate of Religious Affairs, state-sponsored female preachers are establishing a new model of female religious authority in Turkish society based upon the elevation of well-trained and certified women to official positions of religious influence, whereby they are energetically engaged in (re)shaping the populaceâ€™s understanding and interpretations of Islam.
This article elucidates how increased religious educational opportunities for girls over the past few decades, sparked by Turkeyâ€™s transition from single-party rule to a multi-party political system, has fostered the development of state-sponsored female preachers (who are entrusted with giving mosque sermons and legal responsa) at the same time that contemporary Turkish politics and the vig- orously contested place of Islam, Islamic education, and practicing Muslims in an assertively secular system has impinged upon and redirected their lives in surprising ways. Analyzed through the comparative lens of successive generations of female students, the continuous contestation over the appropriate place of religion â€” and particularly its instruction and social visibilityâ€”amid secular state apparatuses has both opened and contracted professional opportunities for Turkeyâ€™s state-sponsored female preachers.
Nearly one-third of Turkeyâ€™s official preaching workforce are women. Their numbers have risen considerably over the past two decades, fueled by an unforeseen feminization of higher religious education as well as the Directorate of Religious Affairsâ€™ attempts to redress its historical gender imbalances. Created in the early Turkish Republic, the Directorate is also historically embedded in (re)defining the appropriate domains and formations of religion, and the female preachers it now employs navigate peopleâ€™s potent fears rooted in memories of this fraught past. In the various neighborhoods of Istanbul, these preachers attempt to overcome conservative Muslimsâ€™ cautious ambivalence toward the interpretative and disciplinary powers of a secular state as well as assertive secularistsâ€™ discomfort and suspicion over increasingly visible manifestations of religiosity. Thus, the activities of state-sponsored female preachers are inescapably intertwined with the contestation of religious domains and authority in the secular Republic of Turkey and demonstrate an intricate interplay between the politics of religion, gender, and secularism in contemporary Turkish society.