This talk explores gendered subjecthood in the legal thought of Muḥammad bin Aḥmad al-Sarakhsī, an eminent 11th-century jurist of the Ḥanafī legal school. Through a comparative study of the construction of male and female slaves as legal subjects, I demonstrate that gendered subjecthood in legal discourse is shifting and fragmented. Al-Sarakhsī constructs a normative maleness and femaleness along the active/passive binary in which maleness is configured as active and desiring and femaleness as passive and desirable. However, legal subjecthood is not constituted through gender alone but also at the intersection of other social factors such as age and enslavement. Thus, in order to theorize gender in early Islamic legal discourse, we must consider that gender is not only multiple and varied but is also internally fractured, disrupting juristic normative claims about gender.
Saadia Yacoob is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College. She holds a PhD in religious studies from Duke University and an MA from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. Her research focuses on gendered subjecthood in early Islamic law, analyzing normative constructions of maleness, femaleness, and the gendered body in legal discourse and impact of these gendered norms on legal hermeneutics. More broadly, her research interests include Islamic legal history, Muslim feminism, history of sexuality, feminist epistemology, and legal anthropology.