This article is about a new publicly visible generation of female Islamic authorities in the UK and the ways in which they make sense of what it means to be a female scholar within largely male-dominated structures of knowledge production. These authorities are setting up their own institutes and emphasising the importance of drawing from within the Islamic tradition while contextualising it in the British context. On the one hand, they stress their unique ability as women to provide personal and collective guidance, based on relationships of empathy and care, that addresses the needs of Muslim women in Britain. On the other hand, they recognise the limitations of presenting guidance as ‘women’s work’, and they seek to pluralise their roles or to present gender as irrelevant in their work. By navigating between accepting, pluralising and transcending female modes of authority, they carve out legitimate spaces for themselves as female leaders while developing and imagining new understandings of Islamic knowledge and plural models of pious leadership. I argue that these multiple ways of making sense of their experiences move us away from theorising female religious leadership solely through binary tropes, such as liberal/orthodox Islam, resistance/compliance, enabling/constraining, which continue to shape research in the field.
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