Class and Global Politics: A Problematic Analysis

Along with race and religious pluralism, Wadud incorporates class into her thinking. As was already noted in the biographical sketch at the beginning of this chapter, her early life was marred by poverty.

Because her father was unable to pay the mortgage for their house in semirural Maryland—a home that he himself had built—the family was forced into homelessness.[1] [2] She recounts this painful episode:

For the next 2 weeks, we must have slept in my father’s car... When school was out, my father built a trailer for us to stay in... Since we did not remain at any one place for more than a month, I suppose I knew that we did not belong... By the time the school year started [that is, when Wadud entered the sixth grade] my father had rented 2 rooms on the 3rd floor of someone else’s house. But this time, we were in the city: Washington, DC. We lived in these 2 rooms for 1 year.234

This formative experience has had a lasting impact on the way in which Wadud interprets scripture. Referring again to Q. 49:13—‘O humankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. The noblest among you in the eyes of God are the most pious among you’—she argues that by looking solely at piety (taqwa), God refuses to differentiate between human beings on the basis of wealth.[3] The affluent and the poor, then, are to be treated the same. And it is here that a notable difference emerges between Wadud’s and Esack’s readings, as the former is less radical than the latter. Esack, referring to the Exodus, maintains that God makes a ‘preferential option’ for the marginalized. He cites (among other verses) Q. 28:5,236 which reads: ‘It is Our Will to bestow Our grace upon the downtrodden of the Earth, and to make them the leaders and to make them the inheritors of the Earth.’ In other words, this is a divine being that does take material realities into account. To put it another way: the affluent and the poor are not to be treated the same. According to the preferential option for the oppressed—a hallmark of liberation theology—a just deity, in a context of manifest inequality, cannot remain a neutral broker but rather must take sides, standing in solidarity with the poor against the wealthy. Indeed, in our interview Wadud explicitly refused to identify as a liberation theologian, underscoring two points: firstly, that while liberation theology has great value to the extent that it addresses oppression—that is, as a means to transition out of states of injustice—it has little to say beyond these oppressive contexts, and, secondly, that she wants to situate herself within a more organic Qur’anic framework (as opposed to adopting an approach that emerged external to the text and Islam in general) and, thus, prefers to identify as a ‘tawhidist’.[4]

It is in the realm of global politics, however, that Wadud’s discourse on poverty is problematic. She is explicit about the evils of capitalism and consumerism, which she refers to as capitalism’s ‘bastard child’, criticizing a cruel economy whereby massive numbers of people are being impoverished, particularly women and chil- dren.[5] At the same time, a tiny fraction of the world’s population is enjoying increasingly lavish and wasteful lifestyles, driven by the market and fuelled by mass consumption.[6] To evidence her argument, Wadud provides statistics from the 1998 U.N.D.P. Human Development Report, showing that the wealthiest 20 per cent of the world’s population consume a whopping 86 per cent of private consumption expenditure while the poorest fifth account for a meagre 1.3 per cent.[7] Yet after suggesting a critical linkage between the affluence of the few and the deprivation of the many—the implication clearly being that the sin of structural poverty can only be alleviated through a far-reaching, systematic redistribution of global wealth—she makes the following conclusion: ‘We have the means to not only eradicate poverty but also to do so without depriving the well to do from experiencing extreme luxury and privilege.’[8] Constituting a glaring contradiction in an otherwise politically progressive discourse, this statement betrays wider inconsistencies in Wadud’s approach to global politics.

Her writings on 9/11 are a compelling case in point. Radical Muslims like Esack have highlighted the political economy of 9/11, arguing that this event cannot be disentangled from the oppressive web of global inequalities sustained by American imperialism, as shown, for instance, by the rejoicing of people not only in the Muslim world but also in other parts of the South like Brazil and China.[9] To be sure, Wadud notes that 9/11 has forced Americans to wake up, to acknowledge the dire consequences of their quest for world dominance.[10] Yet despite her critique of US hegemony, she plays into ideologically loaded language surrounding 9/11: namely, the juxtaposition of the good Muslim, who is peaceful, loving, and acquiescent, with the bad Muslim, who is angry, violent, and virulently anti- American.[11] The following passage reveals this dichotomous construction in her writings:

Islam is not a monolith. It has a plethora of meanings and experiences... Indeed, just as Americans were presented with a horrible affront to their sense of integrity and security by the event of Sept. 11, 2001, when a dozen or so Muslim men laid claim to “Islam” as justification for their vehemence and violence, so too are babies born and women and men surrender in peace and harmony to a claim of ‘Islam.’ Which is the truer picture, the face of evil and destruction or the face of love and life? ... while I do not identify with suicide bombers or acts of violence, I cannot ignore that they occur within the ranks of that vast community of Islam.[12]

While Wadud avoids the liberal Muslim trap of essentializing Islam— one that, as was seen in the third chapter, Engineer falls into— acknowledging that there are both peaceful and militant interpretations of the faith, she reduces a highly politicized and symbolic event to mere religious fanaticism, contrasting ‘the face of evil and destruction’ (the bad Muslim) with ‘the face of love and life’ (the good Muslim). She even uses the sweeping term ‘the terrorists’ to refer to the attackers, arguing that so long as Americans continue to live in a state of fear and alarm, as exhibited, for example, by increased security measures at airports, ‘the terrorists have won’.[13]

A particularly curious aspect of Wadud’s discourse on 9/11 is her portrayal of this event as an expression of patriarchy in Muslim societies. She states that ‘men perpetrated these events in response to actions men exclusively had decided upon, planned and orchestrated’, concluding that ‘men make war while women and children are victims as well as other men.’[14] Such statements problematically presuppose that women themselves do not partake in violence, whether it be through imperialist wars waged by women in the global North to purportedly save Muslim women in the South or militant resistance in which women take up arms alongside men in order to defend their lands and families. Indeed, women have historically been, and continue to be, active participants in militant struggle, especially in nationalist resistance against occupation. The Palestinian medical worker Wafa Idris (d. 2002) is a noteworthy example. During the Second Intifada, she became the first female suicide bomber, and was followed in the same year by three other Palestinian women: namely, Dareen Abu Aisheh, Ayat Akhras, and Andaleeb Takatkeh.[15]

In order to appreciate my critique of Wadud’s discourse on 9/11, it is essential to examine the wider global context in which 9/11 occurred. Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (2005), edited by Bruce Lawrence and translated by James Howarth, is a collection of letters, transcribed speeches, interviews, and video recordings of Bin Laden between 1994 and 2004. Collectively, these texts demonstrate that the 9/11 attacks, while certainly being cloaked in the language of a militant Islam, were far from simply being religiously motivated. Rather, Bin Laden’s grievances were primarily political. The US military’s stationing in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War—and thus being in close proximity to the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina—and the US-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine are two recurring themes in Bin Laden’s discourse.[16] He condemns not only the ‘aggressive Crusader-Jewish alliance’, but also ‘traitorous and cowardly Arab tyrants’ for collaborating with this alliance.[17] Furthermore, Bin Laden laments the deaths of countless children in Iraq251—an outcome of UN-imposed sanctions—as well as atrocities committed against Muslims in general, including in Kashmir, the Philippines, Somalia, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.252 Hence, confronting empire in the Muslim world, particularly American empire, lies at the heart of his militancy and it is within this broader framework that the attacks of 9/11 have to be understood, symbolically targeting both the political and economic centres (Washington and New York City, respectively) of the present world order. Though Bin Laden does not take direct responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and emphasizes that his role was one of ‘incitement’,[18] that is, encouraging Muslims to engage in antiAmerican militancy, he points out that the USA has no moral authority to condemn the targeting of innocent civilians:

It is very strange for Americans and other educated people to talk about the killing of innocent civilians. I mean, who said that our children and civilians are not innocents, and that the shedding of their blood is permissible? Whenever we kill their civilians, the whole world yells at us from east to west, and America starts putting pressure on its allies and puppets. Who said that our blood isn’t blood and that their blood is blood? What about the people that have been killed in our lands for decades?[19]

Thus, it is deeply problematic and simplistic to portray the 9/11 attacks, with their manifestly political grievances and demands, as a ‘face of evil and destruction’ and to frame the attacks in gendered terms, as another expression of Muslim men’s dominance over Muslim women.

  • [1] Wadud, ‘On Belonging as a Muslim Woman’, 255.
  • [2] Ibid, 25 5 -6. 3 Wadud, Qur’an and Woman, 36-7.
  • [3] 236 Esack, Qur’an, Liberation, and Pluralism, 98-9. Esack also cites Q. 7:136-7.
  • [4] Wadud, Interview 20 09. 2 Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 136-7.
  • [5] 239 Ibid, 137.
  • [6] 240 Ibid, 267. For the original report, see ‘Human Development Report 1998’,
  • [7] United Nations Development Program, available at: accessed 23 September 2012.
  • [8] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 267.
  • [9] Esack, ‘In Search of Progressive Islam Beyond 9/11’, 94.
  • [10] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 224.
  • [11] For a seminal study of the emergence of this ‘Good Muslim/Bad Muslim’paradigm and its usage in American foreign policy, see Mahmood Mamdani, GoodMuslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (New York:Pantheon Books, 2004).
  • [12] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 5.
  • [13] Wadud, ‘American by Force, Muslim by Choice’, 701.
  • [14] Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 228.
  • [15] For a perceptive study of these four female fighters and how they have represented themselves and been represented within the larger Arab world, see FrancesS. Hasso, ‘Discursive and Political Deployments by/of the 2002 Palestinian SuicideBombers/Martyrs’, Feminist Review 81 (2005): 23-51.
  • [16] Bruce Lawrence ed. and James Howarth trans. Messages to the World: TheStatements of Osama bin Laden (London: Verso, 2005), 7-9.
  • [17] Ibid. 251 Ibid, 104. 252 Ibid, 25.
  • [18] Ibid, 108 . 2 Ibid, 117. 3 Grey, 112.
  • [19] 256 Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad, 143.
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