Georgetown University

From the 2022 Award for Scholarly Distinction citation in the 2023 Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony booklet

Before Judith Tucker’s work, there hardly was a field of women’s and gender history of the Middle East and North Africa. She has been the brilliant guide to the field through a cluster of six influential books that have traced how both lay Muslims and jurists negotiated their way through Islamic legal doctrines and how women used sharia courts to give themselves a voice. She has trained some of the most influential PhDs in her field and served as the president of the Middle East Studies Association from 2017 to 2019.

With an initial focus on 19th-century Egypt, she subsequently broadened her geographic horizons to Syria and Palestine and temporal orientation to the Ottoman period. Using the changing doctrines and practices of Islamic law as her primary sources, she has shown how sharia law, which to outsiders has often seemed intractable, has had a certain plasticity that allowed it to be remolded in accord with the social transformations of the family and gender relations. From her first book, Women in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1985), to her five years as editor of the International Journal of Middle East Studies, she has made a transformative intervention in the study of gender, which has now, thanks to largely to her, found a home in Middle Eastern academic culture. In her studies, women relied on the law to protect their interests not just as wives and mothers but in their broader economic activities as property holders and as workers. Five of her six books have been translated into Arabic, giving her academic work direct relevance for legal reforms that offer justice to women. Far more than most academic historians, she had made a difference for the good.