Meet the Fellows: 2018 Women’s Studies Fellow Tazeen Ali

The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies is the only national dissertation award for doctoral work on issues of women and gender. The 2018 Fellows include Tazeen Ali, a Ph.D. candidate in religious studies at Boston University. The award will support Tazeen’s final year writing her dissertation, which is titled Rethinking Interpretative Authority: Gender, Race, and Scripture at the Women’s Mosque of America.

Tazeen shares some of the inspiration for her doctoral research:

In the current American socio-political imagination, increasingly shaped by white nationalism, harmful stereotypes about American Muslims prevail. One of the aims of my doctoral research is to overcome the gendered and racialized discourse that calls into question the national belonging of American Muslims. Instead, I shed light on the dynamic ways in which Muslims are already meaningful actors within the fabric of American religious life.

My research analyzes how Muslim women negotiate change within the Islamic tradition in order to build gender-equitable worship communities that are attuned to the realities of their American lives. I use the Women’s Mosque of America (WMA) in Los Angeles as a case study to explore how Muslim women in California cultivate religious authority to advance their gender-egalitarian, social justice-oriented visions for American civic society. Through my research, I convey not only how my interlocutors at the WMA are profoundly shaped by their American identities, but also how they in turn shape their local American contexts through their activism and public engagement. As established civic actors in American society, the Muslim women in my study do not require external validation of their American national belonging.

I am sensitive to redirecting the dominant discourse away from debating the compatibility of Islam and America, because as a second generation American Muslim of Bangladeshi heritage myself, I do not consider it my responsibility to validate my identity to those who would question it. Likewise, as a Muslim woman academic, I consider it crucial to honestly engage patriarchal norms within American Muslim communities rather than overlook them in the service of protecting Muslim communities from Islamophobia. Overall then, my dissertation seeks to portray the Muslim women in the WMA community in all their nuances, beyond, and in rejection of, the burden of shattering stereotypes.


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