men in charge cober

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.

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