family law regulates gender relations, sexuality and family life.
It constitutes the legal framework which regulates the transmission
of wealth and lineage (nasab) from one generation to the next.
It defines the moral and social aspects of marriage and deals
with nearly all the social and financial consequences of divorce,
especially questions concerning the custody of children and alimony
(see Moors 2003). Family law thus directly and constantly affects
the daily life of people. Over time, however, family law has been
transformed from a religiously inspired law regulating relations
within the institution of the family to a set of complex institutional
arrangements generating discourses involving the state, religious
institutions, political parties and civil society, including the
the Arab World and until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, family
affairs were the domain of religious scholars, who dealt with
them according to the rules of different schools of Islamic jurisprudence
(madhahib). At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of
the twentieth centuries, with the emergence of post-colonial nation-states,
Muslim reformists and state officials worked together on codifying
the scattered books and rules of different Islamic schools in
a unified national canon known as the personal status code. Thereby,
religious scholars were allowed to deal with the domain of family
law and rituals, but it was understood that they would refrain
from interfering in constitutional, fiscal and administrative
matters (Masud 2001).
profound changes Muslim societies underwent during the twentieth
century influenced every aspect of life. Processes of modernization,
urbanization, education and the fundamental shifts in demographic
patterns such as decreasing rates of fertility, polygyny and early
marriage led to a growing conflict between the legal regulation
of family law and new socio-economic realities. These processes
led to further modification and reforms, albeit slight, of codified
the second half of the twentieth century, at the beginning of
the 1970s, two paradoxical phenomena emerged. Firstly, the structural
changes mentioned fostered a growing visibility of women as both
economic and political actors. This was expressed in slogans and
activities promoting a more gender-balanced representation in
the economy and politics. Secondly, the same changes paved the
way for new players to enter the political arena. Communists and
nationalists were no longer able to mobilize the public around
attractive slogans. In contrast, the Islamist movements succeeded
in putting states on the defensive. They called for the Islamicization
of society through a revision of gender relations from the legal
and social standpoints. Both the above phenomena recharged the
discussion on the substance, scope and frame of reference of family
the 1990s, the struggle between the proponents of a broader application
of the sharia and the advocates of women's rights intensified.
Political groups were forced to take a position. It is noteworthy
that, although the object of family law is the regulation of gender
relations and sexuality, the debate went so far as to address
non-gendered subjects and to involve institutions that had previously
been concerned with different agendas. Family law was no longer
strictly a matter of gender, sexuality or religion; rather, it
was a metaphor used to express political and economic interests.
their quest for political power, Islamists used the issue of family
law as a lever to expand their sphere of influence and thus to
further undermine the legitimacy of the state. Modernists found
room to edge into the rather limited political space. Women's
organizations, for their part, engaged in the debate, wishing
to break through prevailing limitations in the field of gender
relations. Members of the religious establishment considered the
reform debate and its potential implications a threat that could
render them far less relevant and endanger their relatively privileged
socio-economic status (Shaman 1999). Family law thus became a
powerful political symbol, almost synonymous with Islam (Buskens
2003) and all parties involved in the debate wanted to present
themselves as credible players in the political arena.
focus was thus, as stated above, on the place of Islam, the sharia
and religion in the lives of people and on determining who was
entitled to exercise ijtihad. The debate also referred to notions
of national and cultural authenticity and the ways in which various
expressions of traditionalism and modernism are contested (Buskens
2003). Unlike in the 1980s, when women's groups concentrated on
issues of employment, education and political rights (Moors 2003),
the 1990s witnessed the active participation of women in the family
law debate, a new field in which they could make their voices
heard. In many settings, however, the actual substance of the
debate was drowned in dogmatic, rhetorical confrontation (an-Naim
2001) between Islamic and Western values (Moors 2003). This verbal
jousting in fact masked a struggle for power and legitimacy. The
opposing groups used vague notions of Islamicization and westernization
to delegitimize and discredit each other.
collection of material sheds light on the still ongoing debate
in the Arab World regarding the issue of family law and reform.
A. (2001) Rights at Home: An Approach to the Internalization of
Human Rights in Family Relations in Islamic Communities; paper
presented at the Second Workshop on Islamic Family Law at the
Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies, European University
Institute, in Florence, 21-25 March.
L. (2003), Recent Debates on Family Law Reform in Morocco: Islamic
Law as Politics in an Emerging Public Sphere, Islamic Law and
Society 10(1): 70-132.
M.K. (2001) Muslim Jurists: Quest for the Normative Basis of Shari'a.
Leiden: ISIM Publication.
A. (2003) Introduction: Public Debates on Family Law Reform: Participants,
Positions, and Styles of Argumentation in the 1990s, Islamic Law
and Society 10(1): 1-12.
R. (1999) State, Feminists and Islamists: The Debate over Stipulations
in Marriage Contracts in Egypt, Bulletin of the School of Oriental
and African Studies 62(3): 462-83.
Must Realise That There Is Nothing Magical About the Concept of
Human Rights - Interview with Abdullahi An-Na'im
Human Rights and Secularism: Does It Have to be a Choice? Abdullahi
How to Read a Fatwa
- Muhammad Khalid Masud
Legal Theory within the R@H Project
Legal Vocabulary with notes
of Islamic Law and Muslim Societies, Abdulkader Tayob interviewed
Muhammad Khalid Masud
Marriage Contracts in Islamic
Polygamy by Brother Yaseen
Women and the Interpretation of
Islamic Sources by Heba Raouf Ezzat
Documents in Arabic