Boston University School of Law


Seeking Recognition:
Women's Struggle for Full
Citizenship in the Community
of Religious Workship

Pnina Lahav

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 09-33


In March, 2005, a feminist Muslim scholar, Dr. Amina Wadud, led a group of men and women in public prayer in New York City. Dr. Wadud has enthusiastic followers, but many Muslim scholars reacted to her move with hostility, describing religious prayers led by a woman as lawless and heretical.

Since 1988, a group of orthodox Jewish women have been holding “Tefillah Groups” , claiming that women too may be active participants in the formal ritual of Jewish public prayer. Their act has also triggered considerable hostility and controversy in the Jewish world.

This paper explores the similarities and differences between the Muslim and Jewish frameworks, in an effort to understand better the reasons motivating educated feminists to push the legal frontiers of religious worship and the reasons motivating state apparatuses to resist such moves. It then argues that in the United States, constitutional culture and scholarship has influenced religious women in their quest to better understand their religious law and open it to principles of gender equality.

The paper further explores the affinity between the right to petition the government for redress of grievances and the right to assemble (first amendment to the United States Constitution) as secular rights, and the right of women under Islam and Jewish Law to petition (pray) in assembly in their religious communities. It argues that the concept of full and active citizenship in the community connects the three legal systems – the mature US commitment in the first amendment and the fledgling, exploratory commitment in Islam and Jewish Law.

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Suggested Citation:

Pnina Lahav, "Seeking Recognition: Women's Struggle for Full Citizenship in the Community of Religious Worship," Chapter 5 in GENDERING RELIGION AND POLITICS: Untangling Modernities, edited by Hanna Herzog and Ann Braude (Palgrave Macmillan, July 2009). Only the abstract available on this website. Downloading the document here will download a copy of the book cover.

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