Review: Women Shaping Islam

Women Shaping Islam
Published: Mar 09, 2008

Pieternella van Doorn-Harder

University of Illinois Press, 2006
ISBN 0252073177 A$35

In Women Shaping Islam: Reading the Qur’an in Indonesia, Pieternella van Doorn-Harder provides valuable insight into the role of Muslim women leaders in Indonesia’s largest mass-based Islamic organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, and their respective women’s organisations Nasyiatul Aisyiyah and Fatayat NU. Until now this work has been a missing piece of the puzzle in the academic literature on Indonesian Islam. It reveals the unique character of Indonesian Islam that permits deep female scholarship and interpretation of Islam’s holy texts. This in turn produces a learned and heterogeneous echelon of Muslim women leaders who actively shape Islamic teachings and interpretations at the grass-roots level. Previous studies of NU and Muhammadiyah have tended to focus on their patriarchal hierarchies – little has been written on the role of women. For this reason, Doorn-Harder’s work is based primarily on her own field work conducted whilst living in Yogyakarta from 1994-1999, and subsequent follow-up visits.

This work brings into the public domain voices previously confined to local Indonesian contexts. By quoting directly Indonesia’s Muslim women leaders, the reader is given access to their understanding of Islam. This book successfully grapples with the term ‘Islamic feminism’ in the Indonesian context, and with the spectrum of opinion and interpretation that exists between and within the ranks of NU and Muhammadiyah. The different ideologies, methods of interpretation and educational institutions supported by the two organisations are given careful attention. The chapter on the role of Indonesia’s traditional Islamic boarding schools, pesantren, in fostering and rewarding female Islamic scholarship is particularly well-illustrated and gives due attention to the role of the niyai, the female leaders of pesantren, who are often absent from scholarly works on the traditionally male-dominated institution.

Students of Islam generally, and of Indonesian Islam specifically, will find great value in Doorn-Harder’s insightful and much-needed contribution.    ii

Reviewed by Jemma Parsons ( )

Inside Indonesia 91: Jan-Mar 2008