Islamic feminism has gained currency since the 1990s and has become the label for a new brand of feminist scholarship and activism that is associated with Islam. But this article argues that the composite term ‘Islamic feminism’ has become so loaded with disputed meanings and implications, so enmeshed in local and global political struggles, that it is no longer useful in any kind of descriptive or analytical sense. I reflect on the term in the light of developments since the 1990s, and argue that the ‘war on terror’ has further complicated the situation. Alternative approaches to the study of women's activism are put forward, including the examination of the personal, sociopolitical trajectories of so-called Islamic feminists, in their own specific contexts. Such an approach to women's agency must be understood in an unfolding reality, in which both political Islam and international and secular feminism have manifestly failed in practice to secure justice for women and have lost credibility and legitimacy.