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The Unforgettable Queens of Islam
Succession, Authority, Gender

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  • Date Published: May 2020
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107554894

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About the Authors
  • In this landmark study, Shahla Haeri offers the extraordinary biographies of several Muslim women rulers and leaders who reached the apex of political systems of their times. Their stories illuminate the complex and challenging imperatives of dynastic succession, electoral competition and the stunning success they achieved in medieval Yemen and India, and modern Pakistan and Indonesia. The written history of Islam and the Muslim world is overwhelmingly masculine, having largely ignored women and their contributions until well into the 20th century. Religious and legal justifications have been systematically invoked to justify Muslim women's banishment from politics and public domains. Yet this patriarchal domination has not gone on without serious challenges by women - sporadic and exceptional though their participation in the battle of succession has been. The Unforgettable Queens of Islam highlights lives and legacies of a number of charismatic women engaged in fierce battles of succession, and their stories offer striking insights into the workings of political power in the Muslim world.

    • Takes a cross-cultural and ethno-historical perspective to explore the lives and legacies of several Muslim women rulers from medieval to modern times
    • Challenges both the western stereotypes and Islamist religious and political arguments against Muslim women political leadership
    • Makes the striking history of the lives of charismatic Muslim women rulers accessible to a broad readership
    Read more


    • Finalist, 2021 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Historical Studies, American Academy of Religion

    Reviews & endorsements

    ‘Most women rulers in Islamic states succeeded their fathers or husbands, and Shahla Haeri shows that they cultivated an image as tolerant and caring ‘mothers' of their nations. Her fascinating and original study concludes that an emerging generation of female politicians may represent a more democratic and inclusive force in Muslim societies, precisely because their very identity is a challenge to military and theocratic establishments.' Adam Kuper, British Academy

    ‘Haeri harvests decades of work on women political leaders in the Islamic world, from the Queen of Sheba in the 10th century B.C.E. to the contemporary Pakistani Benazir Bhutto and Indonesian Megawati Sukarnoputri. By performing fine-tuned ethnographic and historical research, Haeri brilliantly answers the question of why only in modern times have religious/political establishments begun to apply the suspect hadith against accepting a woman as ruler.' Mary Elaine Hegland, Santa Clara University, California

    ‘The written history of the Muslim world is still typically told in a manner that sidelines the experience of Muslim women. In this beautifully written and important book, Shahla Haeri corrects that imbalance, creating the finest book I have ever read on women leaders across the Muslim-majority world. This is a ‘must read' for everyone interested in Islam and gender today and across the span of history.' Robert W. Hefner, Boston University, Massachusetts

    ‘This pioneering book offers a riveting account of women who have achieved political power across a range of Muslim majority cultures and down the centuries. Today the issue of women and power is a highly contested one in Muslim majority countries - as indeed elsewhere. Offering a sustained, reasoned and well-grounded overview and analysis of the topic and its underpinnings, this book constitutes an invaluable resource.' Leila Ahmed, Harvard University, Massachusetts

    ‘The Unforgettable Queens of Islam presents a fascinating set of comparative biographies of Muslim women leaders … engaging and thought-provoking.’ R. A. Miller, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107554894
    • length: 278 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 14 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • contains: 12 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction. Games of succession: patriarchy, power, gender
    Part I. Sacred Sources of Authority: The Quran and the Hadith:
    1. Queen of Sheba and the mighty throne
    2. Aisha Bint Abu Bakr: battle of the camel, battle for succession
    Part II. Medieval Queens: Dynasty and Descent:
    3. Sayyida Hurra Queen Arwa of Yemen: 'the little Queen of Sheba'
    4. Razia Sultan of India: 'Queen of the world Bilqis-I Jihan'
    Part III. Contemporary Queens: Institutionalization of Succession and Leadership:
    5. Benazir Bhutto: a queen 'without parallel'
    6. Megawati Sukarnoputri: 'Limbuk becomes Queen'
    Conclusion. Patriarchal paradox?

  • Author

    Shahla Haeri, Boston University
    Shahla Haeri is Associate Professor of Anthropology and a former director of the Women's Studies Program at Boston University. She is the author of the pioneering ethnographic book Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shī'ī Iran (1989, 2014) on the unique Shi'a practice of temporary marriage in Iran and No Shame for the Sun: Lives of Professional Pakistani Women (2002). She is the producer and director of a video documentary on Iranian women presidential contenders entitled Mrs. President: Women and Political Leadership in Iran (2002). Haeri is the recipient of many grants and postdoctoral fellowships.


    • Finalist, 2021 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Historical Studies, American Academy of Religion

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