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Men in charge?

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Men in charge? rethinking authority in Muslim legal tradition, bookFeminist research – 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, and 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.

But 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 problematise dominant understandings of Qiwamah and wilayah.

They unearth alternative and empowering interpretations of the two concepts using the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and propose a Sufi corrective to juristic constructions of gender relations and rights;

They also reveal how contemporary Muslim family codes are premised on these two concepts, and the different ways in which states have reformed their codes.

And they 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.

The contributors, brought together by Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, include Omaima Abou-Bakr, Asma Lamrabet, Ayesha Chaudhry, Sa‘diyya Shaikh, Lynn Welchman, Marwa Sharefeldin, Lena Larsen and Amina Wadud.

The editors are Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki Al-Sharmani and Jana Rumminger.

Mir-Hosseini is a legal anthropologist. A professorial research associate at the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, SOAS, University of London, she is founding member of Musawah and the convenor of its knowledge-building initiative to rethink the notion of male authority in Muslim family laws.

Al-Sharmani is Academy of Finland research fellow and lecturer, Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki, and research coordinator of the Musawah knowledge-building initiative to rethink the notion of male authority in Muslim family laws.

And Rumminger is currently based in Southeast Asia – and works with Musawah. Her focus is on issues related to reform of Muslim family laws and implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

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