Books Archive

Justice Through Equality: Building Religious Knowledge for Reform of Muslim Family Laws

A Report on the Oslo Coalition’s Muslim Family Law Project

About this report
The Oslo Coalition is an international network of experts and representatives from religious and other life-stance communities, academia, NGOs, international organisations and civil society, based at the University of Oslo and funded by the Norwegian government. It carries out a number of projects to promote freedom of religion or belief worldwide. Since 2004, the Oslo Coalition project ‘New Directions in Islamic Thought’ has organised six international workshops and produced two books on burning issues of reform from within the Islamic tradition: New Directions in Islamic Thought (ed. Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, London: I.B. Tauris, 2009) and Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law (ed. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, London: I.B. Tauris, 2013) – referred to below as NDIT and GEMFL respectively.
In 2008–2012, the project brought together a diverse group of Muslim experts to discuss gender equality in Muslim family law. They included religious scholars; experts in the social, human and legal sciences; and NGO activists. All shared a commitment to engaging with the Islamic tradition to bring about reform consonant with modern understandings of justice. We held three international workshops in Marrakech and Cairo, and published the book GEMFL, on which this report is based.
The report is intended for policy-makers, stakeholders and advocates of reform who are developing knowledge-based arguments for legal reform. It sums up lessons we have learned from the expert discussions and written contributions, and places some of the key arguments into an editorial synthesis.
We have not sought to develop a consensus statement, and the individual authors cited are not responsible for each other’s arguments, for the particular use we have made of their own work, or for any errors in the presentation. For the full version of the key scholarly findings and arguments as developed by the expert participants, and the evidence and literature they cite, please see the book chapters and other key resources referenced under “Further reading” in each section.

Ziba Mir-Hosseini
Kari Vogt
Lena Larsen
Christian Moe

The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Norwegian Center for Human Rights
PO Box 6706 St. Olavs plass
NO-0130 OSLO

Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition

Both Muslims and non-Muslims see women in most Muslim communities as suffering from social, economic and political discrimination, treated by law and in society as second-class citizens subject to male authority. This discrimination is attributed to Islam and Islamic law, though it varies considerably in its impact, according to both class and region. Since the early twentieth century there has been a mass of literature tackling this issue, some from a feminist or human rights perspective, some taking the form of an apology for Islamic law.

Recently, exciting new feminist research has been challenging gender discrimination and male authority from within Islamic legal tradition. This book presents some important results from that research. The contributors all engage critically with two central juristic concepts, derived from Qur’anic interpretations, that they consider to lie at the basis of this discrimination. Qiwamah and wilayah, as understood and translated into legal rulings by Muslim scholars, place women under male authority. Qiwamah refers to a husband’s authority over his wife, his financial responsibility towards her, and his superior status and rights. Wilayah is male family members’ right and duty of guardianship over female members (e.g., fathers over daughters when entering into marriage contracts) and the privileging of fathers over mothers in guardianship rights over their children.

The contributors, scholars from different disciplines and backgrounds, revisit and problematize dominant understandings of Qiwamah and wilayah; unearth alternative and empowering interpretations of the two concepts using the Qur’an and the Sunnah; propose a Sufi corrective to juristic constructions of gender relations and rights; reveal how contemporary Muslim family codes are premised on these two concepts, and the different ways in which states have reformed their codes; explore the interplay between contemporary religious discourses and the lived experiences of Muslim gender relations in Europe; and seek to understand how Muslim women in selected countries experience and negotiate the religious interpretations and socio-legal norms that shape their lives and are informed by the two juristic concepts in question.


Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law

Gender equality is a modern ideal, which has only recently, with the expansion of human rights and feminist discourses, become inherent to generally accepted conceptions of justice. In Islam, as in other religious traditions, the idea of equality between men and women was neither central to notions of justice nor part of the juristic landscape, and Muslim jurists did not begin to address it until the twentieth century.

The personal status of Muslim men, women and children continues to be defined by understandings of Islamic law – codified and adapted by modern nation-states – that assume authority to be the natural prerogative of men, that disadvantage women and that are prone to abuse. This volume argues that effective and sustainable reform of these laws and practices requires engagement with their religious rationales from within the tradition.

Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law offers a ground-breaking analysis of family law, based on fieldwork in family courts, and illuminated by insights from distinguished clerics and scholars of Islam from Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia, as well as by the experience of human rights and women’s rights activists. It explores how male authority is sustained through law and court practice in different contexts, the consequences for women and the family, and the demands made by Muslim women’s groups. The book argues for women’s full equality before the law by re-examining the jurisprudential and theological arguments for male guardianship (qiwama, wilaya) in Islamic legal tradition.

Using contemporary examples from various contexts, from Morocco to Malaysia, this volume presents an informative and vital analysis of these societies and gender relations within them. It unpicks the complex and often contradictory attitudes towards Muslim family law, and the ways in which justice and ethics are conceived in the Islamic tradition. The book offers a new framework for rethinking old formulations so as to reflect contemporary realities and understandings of justice, ethics and gender rights.


Buy Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts from Amazon

Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts

Control and Sexuality examines zina laws in some Muslim contexts and communities in order to explore connections between the criminalisation of sexuality, gender-based violence and women’s rights activism. The Violence is Not Our Culture Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws network present this comparative study and feminist analysis of zina laws as a contribution to the broader objective of ending violence in the name of ‘culture’. It is hoped that the publication will help activists, policy-makers, researchers and other civil society actors acquire a better understanding of how culture and/or religion are invoked to justify laws that criminalise women’s sexuality and subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of punishment.

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Buy Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform from Amazon

Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform

Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is a former revolutionary and clerical reformer who became one of the Islamic Republic’s most outspoken critics. His ideas of “Islamic democratic government” have attracted considerable attention in Iran and elsewhere. In presenting a selection of Eshkevari’s writings, this book reveals a trajectory of dissent common to all Islamic nations today and makes a highly original contribution to our understanding of the difficult social and political issues confronting the Muslim world.


‘Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is among the increasing number of progressive clerics pushing for reform in the Islamic system.’ -Le Monde ‘A scholarly contribution of outstanding merit.’ -Professor Ann Elizabeth Mayer, University of Pennsylvania ‘The publication of this book is very important and timely.’ -Professor Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd, Leiden University ‘If one has time to read only one book on how to interpret the language of contemporary religious politics in Iran, this is it.’ -Professor Dale F. Eickelman, Dartmouth CollegeASIAN AFFAIRSAnyone interested in post-revolutionary Iran will find this an absorbing book. Christopher Rundle

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Marriage On Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law

Debates over family law are a sensitive subject in the Muslim world, revealing something of the struggle between forces of traditionalism and modernism. The highly disparate tendencies within Islamic “fundamentalism” share a desire to re-institute Shar’ia law, regarded as the last bastion of the Islamic ideal of social relations. This book probes the theory and practice of Islamic family law in the contemporary Muslim world, focusing on the dynamics of marriage and the consequences of its breakdown, and the ways in which litigants manipulate the law to resolve marital and child custody disputes.

Indonesian translation 2005: Perkawinam Dalam Kontrovesi Du Mazhab (Jakarta: International Centre for Islam and Pluralism).

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Buy Islam and Gender from Amazon

Islam and Gender

Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the re-introduction of Sharica law relating to gender and the family, women’s rights in Iran suffered a major setback. However, as the implementers of the law have faced the social realities of women’s lives and aspirations, positive changes have gradually come about. Here Ziba Mir-Hosseini takes us to the heart of the growing debates concerning the ways in which justice for women should be achieved. Through a series of lively interviews with clerics in the Iranian religious center of Qom, she seeks to understand the varying notions of gender that inform Islamic jurisprudence and to explore how clerics today perpetuate and modify these notions.

Mir-Hosseini finds three main approaches to the issue: insistence on “traditional” patriarchal interpretations based on “complementarity” but “inequality” between women and men; attempts to introduce “balance” into traditional interpretations; or a radical rethinking of the jurisprudential constructions of gender. She introduces the debates among the commentators by examining key passages in both written and oral texts and by narrating her meetings and discussions with the authors. Unique in its approach and its subject matter, the book relates Mir-Hosseini’s engagement, as a Muslim woman and a social anthropologist educated and working in the West, with Shii’i Muslim thinkers of various backgrounds and views. In the literature on women in Islam, there is no account of such a face-to-face encounter, either between religion and gender politics or between the two genders.

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