In This Review

Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran
Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran
By Ziba Mir-Hosseini
Princeton University Press, 1999, 305 pp.

Anthropologist Mir-Hosseini presents her transcribed discussions with Iranian religious figures during research trips back to her native land. All but one (Abdul Karim Soroush) are clerics, and three are ayatollahs. Together, they represent three tendencies: the traditionalists who accept gender inequality, the "neo-traditionalists" who seek "gender balance" while staying within the traditional Islamic legal paradigm, and the modernists who demand gender equality and a more flexible Islamic legal system. Mir-Hosseini also describes women's journals in Iran and the public discussion of gender. These debates, just like their subjects, are often veiled. Soroush, for example, largely avoids gender issues but argues that his call for a modernized Islam paves the way for gender equality. One cleric interviewed even insisted that Ayatollah Khomeini felt obliged to hold back on talking about women's issues. Given that the clerics, so scholastic in every sense of the word, are both the ideologists and the wielders of power in Iran, this book is important for probing the range of their thought.