There are at least two kinds of historicism that are relevant to Islamic legal reform, one rooted in a progressive theory of history, the other rooted in history as a source for textual interpretation. The latter has the potential to garner greater support for progressive legal change insofar as it falls squarely within the well-known jurisprudential concept known as takhsis al-'āmm (specification of the general term). In this article, I explore this reform strategy by analyzing a well-known Prophetic hadīth that is traditionally understood as excluding women from holding political office. By exploring literary history, Islamic legal hermeneutics, and substantive Islamic law, I demonstrate that, in this particular case, substantial egalitarian reform can be justified without fundamental changes to traditional Islamic theological doctrines. While no one rhetorical strategy offers a “magic bullet” for creating a more gender-egalitarian version of Islamic law, progressive Muslim reformers in my view should first exhaust possibilities for reform implicit in traditional methods before introducing arguments outside of that tradition—arguments which, by their nature, raise controversial theological questions that may be more intractable than the legal rules that are the object of the desired reform.
As revolution in the Arab world became clear, questions were raised whether political Islam had or would hae any role in the revolutions. The popular press seemed to minimize or deny the role of Islam in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. The attempt to minimize the role of Islam in these revolutions does little to help us understand the course of Islamic political thought over the last 150 years in the Arab world, its relationship to the democratic demands of the Arab peoples, and the prospects for a reconciliation between modern Islamic political thought and certain forms of democratic secularism. The central hypothesis of this essay is that neither the Tunisian nor the Egyptian Revolutions can be properly understood without the contributions of Islamic modernism to modern political thought in the Arab world.