Department of Religion
Office Location: 107A Anderson Hall
Areas of Specialization: Islamic Studies, Women and Religion, African-American Religious Traditions
Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion and affiliated faculty in the Women Studies Department. Simmons received her BA from Antioch University in Human Services and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion with a specific focus on Islam from Temple University as well as a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. Simmons’ primary academic focus in Islam is on the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) and its impact on Muslim women, contemporarily. Simmons spent two years (1996-1998) living and conducting dissertation research in the Middle East countries of Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. The areas of focus for her teaching at this time include Islam, Women, Religion and Society; Women and Islam, African American Religious Traditions, and Race, Religion, and Rebellion.
In addition to her academic studies in Islam, Simmons was a disciple in Sufism (the mystical stream in Islam) for seventeen years (1971-1986) under the guidance of Sheikh Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyadeen, a Sufi Mystic from Sri Lanka, until his passing. She remains an active member of the Bawa Muhaiyadeen Fellowship and Mosque and student of this great Saint’s teachings.
Simmons has a long history in the area of civil rights, human rights and peace work. She was on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace, justice, human rights and international development organization headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa. for twenty-three years. During her early adult years as a college student and thereafter, she was active with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and spent seven years working full time on Voter Registration and desegregation activities in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960′s.
- Gwendolyn Zohara Simmons, 2003. “Are We Up To The Challenge: The Need for a Radical Re-ordering of the Islamic Discourse on Women” in Critical Islam, Omid Safi, ed. (London, One World Press).
- Gwendolyn Zohara Simmons, 2003. “Racism Today in Higher Education as Manifested in the Continued Assault on Affirmative Action” in Florida Law Review, University of Florida Levin School of Law.
- Gwendolyn Zohara Simmons, 2002. The Islamic Law of Personal Status and its Contemporary Impact on Women in Jordan, dissertation, (Philadelphia: Temple University).
- Gwendolyn Zohara Simmons, 2000. “Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights – Before and Beyond Beijing” in Windows of Faith: Muslim Women Scholar-Activists in North America, Gisela Webb, ed. (Syracuse: UP).
Women and Islam, particularly exploring progressive Muslim women’s movements, historically and contemporarily. I am especially interested in how Muslim feminists and their allies are working to change the religiously grounded conservative narratives about the role of women through new interpretations of critical Quranic and Hadith Passages as well as their efforts to change misogynist aspects of Shari’a Law. I am also interested in the role that Muslim women played in what has become known as the “Arab Spring.” Focused attention is on Muslim Feminists’ use of social media; facebook, twitter, blogs and other electronic ways of providing leadership to these struggles and interjecting themselves into the discourse about the goals and aspirations of these movements. Related to these above interests is my work on my manuscript: Muslim Feminism: A Call for Reform, which is ongoing.
Islam and Religious Fundamentalism: In light of the rise of Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Jamaat Al Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood, and now ISIS- The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIL – The Islamic State in the Levant, I seek to trace the underlying religious understandings undergirding (or claiming) to undergird these movements and their attraction to significant numbers of Muslims around the world: Witness the Westerner from Australia, Europe, and the United States joining these movements as they joined Al-Qaeda and earlier Islamists groups. While many Muslims deny that there is anything in the religion that sanctions the horrific acts carried out by these fundamentalist groups, I am interested in the 7th-century Karajites who used terror tactics against the Umayyads and the Abbasids justifying their strategies and tactics with the Qur’an and the Hadith as do these contemporary Islamists groups. Related to this interest is my work on my manuscript: Islam Does Not Equal Fundamentalism under contract with the New Press, which is being revised, based on the editors suggested changes.