Whose Sharia Is It? by Kecia Ali


dissertation, Advising, feminism and religionIt has been a lousy month for Islamic law.

First, there was the kidnapping and threatened sale of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram, which claimed religious acceptability for their acts. As Muslim theologian Jerusha Lamptey opined, this is not my sharia.

Then, the Sultan of Brunei’s horrific new penal code came into effect. Unlike the Nigerian girls, where a social media campaign garnered White House attention, the Brunei law gained visibility because the Sultan–who is dictating law that his track record suggests he does not observe–indirectly owns the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. Hollywood figures have objected to the rules, due to come into effect next year, which would punish proven male-male anal sex with death. (As far as I know, the code does not prescribe any particular punishment for lesbian acts, though the rhetoric has become that the new law prescribes “stoning gays and lesbians.”)

Claims like that of the Sultan or Boko Haram that “Islam” demands implementation of “sharia” ignore the complex reality in which there is not now nor has there ever been a uniform set of identifiable rules that Muslim scholars have agreed on much less that governments in Muslim majority countries have implemented over the centuries. As I wrote elsewhere, so-called sharia laws on the books in Brunei, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Morocco are not directly revealed by God. They are human products with human histories negotiated in human contexts. The pretense that these laws are straightforward implementations of God’s will not only serves to justify these otherwise unjustifiable rules but also feeds the demonization and dehumanization of Muslims. Though happening on two continents and perpetrated by two quite distinct sorts of actors – a multibillionaire monarch enmeshed in global capitalism and a militant anti-Western, anti-government insurgency – the Nigerian kidnapping and the Brunei law became exhibits A and B for the vilification of sharia.

And then I heard an NPR story about Sudan’s intended flogging and execution of Meriam Ibrahim for apostasy and illicit sex. My first response, as someone who writes and teaches about Islamic law and is committed to understanding it in all its historical complexity: how barbaric.

That was followed by resignation. Why bother to advocate for more sophisticated understandings of Islamic law? What is the use in pointing out that the claims of timelessness authenticity are groundless? So what if these versions of Islamic law are selective, partial, implemented by dictators with populist pretensions and monarchs with captive constituencies? They still apply it. And yes, it’s true that Americans generally aren’t interested in threats to Muslim lives or well-being or African lives or well-being except when there is a sensational story to be made (drone attacks don’t cut it). Doesn’t matter; this is still happening, and it’s wrong.

My “what’s the use?” phase shifted into the simmering anger phase once I began to think about why exactly this version of Islamic law holds sway. It’s patriarchy straight down the line.

The charge of apostasy is based on the claim that Ibrahim was born Muslim: her religion follows that of her (Muslim) father, who left her (Christian) mother when Ibrahim was young. She was apparently raised Christian. Patriarchy allows interreligious marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian woman, but not the reverse, and supports the presumption that the child’s religion follows that of its father.

The charge of illicit sex for which Ibrahim has been sentenced to lashes results from the court deeming her marriage to a Christian man void. Since she is considered Muslim (because of her father’s religion), and since, unlike the situation in her parents’ marriage, marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian man cannot be valid, the court determined that she had sex outside of marriage. Her toddler, and the child growing in her belly, prove her offense. Score another one for patriarchy.

According to reports, Ibrahim’s case was brought to the attention of the authorities by some relatives (presumably Muslim ones) who objected to her marriage to a Christian. As far as the charge of illicit sex goes, a premodern court would almost certainly have applied the doubt rule: essentially, if there are any grounds for exoneration – such as the fact that the woman thought her marriage was valid – avert the punishment. Apostasy, too, seems to have been seldom punished in practice, however strongly the rule was upheld in theory. One can make a case that as with Brunei’s new penal code or the Boko Haram kidnapping, the Sudanese verdict represents a modern and profoundly problematic view of Islamic law.

At the moment, though, I am less interested in insisting on the nuance and variability of traditional Islamic law and more on critiquing its powerful patriarchal presuppositions. However tempered they were in past practice by judicial clemency, they lay the ground for the charges against Ibrahim. Of course we need to remember that context matters: we will not understand these developments in Nigeria or Brunei or the Sudan without reference to national and global politics, economics, and – in the last case – individual family dynamics; Islamic law is only part of the picture. And yet it is a key piece of the picture. Rethinking Islamic law without questioning its basic presumptions about male dominance will not take us nearly far enough.

Whose sharia is this? It is certainly not mine. I cannot believe that it is God’s.

Kecia Ali, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University where she teaches a range of classes related to Islam. She writes on early Islamic law, women, ethics, and biography. Her books include Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (2006)Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (2010), Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint (2011) and The Lives of Muhammad (due out this fall). She lives in the Boston area with her family.

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Categories: Academy, Family, General, In the News, Islam, Justice, Patriarchy, Politics, Textual Interpretation

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52 replies

  1. Sigghhh and more power to you and the others who are with you.

    At one time my friend Judith and I used to debate whether there was an essential core of the Bible or Jewish or Christian tradition that was not patriarchal. Then Judith came to the conclusion that there was not, but that it was up to Jews to change their tradition, based on a combination of insights from the past and present, that are not all “derived from” the Bible or tradition.

    I think this is a most admirable position to take. It articulated, this position makes it clear that thorough-going opposition to patriarchy is an insight feminists share across traditions, but that may or may not be part of any particular tradition. From this standpoint, feminists appeal to traditions (if they do) but also to other communities, such as feminist ones.

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  2. “It’s patriarchy straight down the line.” I agree. Working to dismantle the social system called patriarchy is daunting–and slow-going. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the effects of patriarchy and lose sight of the engine driving the upheaval. Great piece, Kecia. Thank you for writing.

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    • Thanks for your comment. Fixing root problems and not just treating symptoms is key, but so tricky.

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    • Thanks, Carol. Judith’s work is remarkable for its consistent clarity on these and other points. For Muslim feminists at the moment, it seems to me that there are two key pieces to the struggle which connect to your comment here. One is to remind ourselves and others that there is no such thing – no matter how much people want to pretend – as a “pure” response from tradition. Muslims are human beings; human beings have histories and communities and ways of thinking and insights and biases that foil any attempt to say “this, and this alone, is true Islam.” The other, related, is that connections among feminists across (and outside) religious communities are vital. That’s one thing this blog provides. ________________________________________

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      • Thanks for your post abut tradition.
        “there is no such thing – no matter how much people want to pretend – as a “pure” response from tradition. Muslims are human beings; human beings have histories and communities and ways of thinking and insights and biases that foil any attempt to say “this, and this alone, is true Islam.”
        Same thing is true of the Roman Catholic Church and tradition!

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      • Sister Lea, you are absolutely right. The formal authority structures of Roman Catholicism are very different from those of Sunni Islam, but there are many parallel challenges. We need cross-tradition solidarity and strategizing, since there are so many important lessons to be learned, and so many collective struggles still to be undertaken. ________________________________________

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  3. I love this blog for not being afraid of the word patriarchy and being brutally honest about our world. Thank you for the work you do with every post sisters!

    P.s. Is there a way to help Ibrahim or know what happened to her? :(

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    • Ibrahim is still in jail, as far as I know; her lawyers are appealing her sentence. Her husband is an American citizen so I believe there are diplomatic efforts afoot. Beyond that, it is a tricky question about whether pressure campaigns from private citizens are helpful in these sorts of circumstances. In a Nigerian case several years back, some activists sought global pressure while others argued it would backfire. (That sentence was ultimately overturned for procedural reasons, using Nigerian law.) ________________________________________

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      • Thank you for the extra information Kecia. I hope that her husband’s American citizenship helps instead of hinders her. I will keep her in my prayers as I do for all my sisters who are suffering. <3

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    • Amnesty International has started a petition. I added my name to it a while ago, but it’s ongoing.

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  4. Great piece, Kecia. It is exhausting to think and write on these issues and to confront the real and tragic costs in the lives of real people.

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    • Thank you, Kelly. It’s absolutely true that there are real costs to real people. And as Laury says in her comment, how do we balance the practical, pragmatic strategies for change with the need for fundamental reform? If there are easy answers, I would like someone to tell me them. ________________________________________

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  5. I’m stuck in a weird place. You know that I agree with you that critical analysis and exposure of patriarchy straight down the line is absolutely necessary. To be honest, for me, the legal tradition is so poisoned by patriarchy I only pay attention to the basics of worship. I mean the very basic basics because as you know [after all, you, Geissinger, and Wadud taught me all this] even in rulings on worship we find problems in the details regarding non-cis-gendered-male bodies in worship, women not being able to do supererogatory works if it would interfere with their husbands sexual access to them, and women’s authority in matters of leading worship, etc.). Critical analysis and exposure is–for me–absolutely necessary to let go of it and be free to worship God. But of course, I have the luxury of letting go of it.

    So what about those who have to work with it to change things? What about those who, given their social realities, need a system in which men take up certain positions of responsibility? What about those who are not interested in equality, but are also not interested in abuse (although it’s hard for me to accept that equity is not abusive)? What about those for whom this kind of critique is spiritually harmful?

    In particular, I think about the work of Musawah in which they have to work with the system to get things done. I believe that founding members of Musawah are driven by the kinds of critiques we value, but they are not undoing things the way we might like. They challenge male power. They are making the law safer for Muslim women. But they do it, in part, by convincing men that the Qur’an and the Sunna do not argue for the kind power over women they assume is their natural right. That’s not true to my mind, but there is no doubt that it works.

    So I guess I’m nearly writing my next FAR blog here and should stop. The practicalities that I come up against in my mosque community and when taking into account what works for women globally mitigate against my love of and liberation through exposing the existence of androcentric language/power systems in the Qur’an and Hadith, as well as in the legal and theological (and even Sufi) traditions.

    Of course, it does not need to be either-or. These distinct positions can work together. I guess I’m considering how I balance these differences within myself. Your input is most welcome, please…..

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    • Laury, I wrote a long comment and then my email program ate it. So let me just focus on the key point: where you are stuck is where I get stuck over and over again. I got stuck there in Sexual Ethics and Islam (see especially the chapter on female genital cutting) and I periodically get stuck there on the issue of dower in marriage and so forth. What will be good for this individual woman in her particular circumstances versus what is the rigorously theoretically consistent ideal? I try to remind myself that I can use different strategies for talking to different people at different times (see miriam cooke on “multiple critique”) without abandoning core principles or fundamental insights. And trying to remind myself, too, that I can offer my perspective on things but I can’t control how it will be taken, adopted, transformed, misunderstood, refuted, etc. ________________________________________

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  6. Brava! It sounds to me like that punitive, mean sharia belongs to old men who influence young men to be as mean as they are. What chances do brave women have against this so-called law?

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  7. Thank you, Kecia, for expressing this frustration with the honesty that is so characteristic for your writing. I see it not only as a matter of different strategies and different audiences (this is a tricky one) but also as parts of the same movement in which we all make choices about where to apply our energies and where we can be on a spectrum between compromising on our ideals in order to be effective activists or accepting that our insistence on ideals severely paralyzes our ability to affect change. I live with a sense of guilt about every cause, every person, every issue that I don’t focus on because doing them all is so inefficient.

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    • Juliane, you are so right to point out both the limits of individual action (and the variation in individual talents and passions) as well as the power of collective action. We are good at different things, we care about different things, we emphasize different things, and perhaps shift our emphases as time and circumstances and individual needs and resources shift. What matters is that we are doing something rather than nothing, and that we find ways to support each other rather than get caught in infighting, and forget the big picture.

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  8. Can you say something about the laws on apostasy (conversion?), their origins, and their purpose, and what you think of them? Thanks. I know you could write a book on this, so perhaps you just want to say what you think of them in a sentence or two.

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    • I am inclined to agree with Abdullah Saeed, who literally wrote the book on this topic (Freedom of Religion and Apostasy in Islam), that the “traditional” rules on apostasy grow out of a context in which changing religion meant changing loyalty: the punishment is more about treason than individual faith. Many Muslims today – it is tough to know what percentage – read the Qur’anic verse that says “there is (or: “let there be”) no compulsion in religion” (2:256) to mean that there should be no earthly punishment for apostasy; rather, the individual will answer to God for this choice, as for all other choices, at the final judgment.

      Meanwhile, as far as laws go, there is not surprisingly disagreement. Among the premodern jurists, there are variations in how male and female apostasy are treated, with one view that women should never be executed for apostasy but simply held in custody until they repent and return to Islam. (This gender differential intersects with other legal rules and complicated contexts. Muhammad Qasim Zaman has an excellent short article in which he discusses how, in a particular colonial moment, some Indian women stuck in marriages they didn’t want might use apostasy to end their marriages; creative patriarchal legal thinking closed that loophole, resulting in a reform to certain divorce laws.) Among modern nation states that claim to implement Islamic law, there are again a variety of approaches to apostasy and related “crimes” including blasphemy and heresy. I am working on an article now that discusses the intersection of “theological incorrectness” with feminist critiques of patriarchal authority. Perhaps that’s the next blog?

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  9. The sentiments and sympathy of all of the self proclaimed activists for peace and justice will lie exposed when you ask them this question. Well, I don’t expect any of you to ponder much over it because its not mainstream to think outside the spectrum of the status quo.However I will put the question anyway.

    If patriarchy existed , more than misandry does today. If women didn’t think that killing and burning alive boys is okay but abducting girls is a hot bed issue. Why didn’t anyone in this whole world bat an eye, when the same terrorist organization , massacred the boys in the same school only few months ago? The whole world today cries for the girls in Nigeria, indeed army of men are moving in to this African country, risking their lives to save these girls, while feminists armchair warriors blame about patriarchy from behind the monitor .

    http://www.mediaite.com/online/why-did-kidnapping-girls-but-not-burning-boys-alive-wake-media-up-to-boko-haram/

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    • Abdul Rahiman, thank you for your comment. I sincerely doubt that anyone reading and commenting thinks that Boko Haram’s despicable murder of schoolboys is acceptable.

      The question of why some stories catch on and not others involves a lot of things, including whether such stories conform to comfortable narratives. Thus, we hear a lot about Muslim women being victimized by “Islamic law” and not about, for instance, Muslim women being victimized by IMF policies or US military strikes. Gang rapes in India garner public attention in ways that gang rapes in Ohio or California or Louisiana do not. (On the latter example, see Rebecca Solnit, “The Longest War.”)

      One consideration that occurs to me is that in the case of the abducted girls, something can be done: they can still be rescued. Hence, the media focus. The boys, sadly, are beyond that.

      As for why I didn’t mention them, my focus here was on cases where Muslim actors are claiming religious legitimacy for their acts. If they did so in the case of the slain schoolboys, I did not read about it – but of course, as you point out, the media coverage was sparse and it might have gone unreported.

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  10. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Goddess or God cares which religion anyone belongs to, although I imagine she is not happy with anyone who thinks their religion tells them to oppress or subordinate anyone at all. So in my book notions of sanctions for apostasy and heresy are wrong, and calling it treason doesn’t help much, as I also do not believe that anyone owes loyalty to any king or tyrant or democratically elected leader, and I have no fondness for any type of nation state as all of them were built on the backs of someone and hold their sovereignty and borders through violence and the threat of violence (bless Jonathan Schell for explaining that to me).

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    • This topic of what the state should/should not enforce, and from where it derives its legitimacy, and how we ought to interact with it, and what type of coercive power it does or should wield is much bigger than I intended to address here but it does absolutely emerge from these cases. The questions about loyalty and belonging, exclusivism and pluralism, are absolutely vital. I throw my lot in with those who want more inclusion and connection, not less. I think human beings are small-minded, not the Divine.

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  11. Whose feminism is it?

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    • Zaf,

      Your comment may be flippant (it’s hard to read tone in messages) but it’s a serious question and one that has particular relevance for Muslim women’s activism. People who have written thoughtfully on this topic include Asma Barlas and Aysha Hidayatullah.

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      • Kecia,

        Many thanks for your response. The question is indeed serious, and relevant for all women’s activism – not just Muslims.

        An ongoing attempt seems to be in motion by feminists of various denominations to portray formulating the shariah as being as vague and hokum a process as reading tea leaves, in order to demonstrate that, because it is “a human product with a human history negotiated in a human context”, it is inherently dangerous and should be completely disempowered.

        Your article (which is why I am interested in your response more than Barlas’ or Hidayatullah’s) aims at the same; it is based on the usual double standard: feminism itself is “a human product with a human history negotiated in a human context”.

        The fundamental difference between the shariah and feminism, however, is that the shariah, at least, is drawn from particular sources that the majority of Muslims agree to be legitimate sources to draw from, and to discern between right and wrong. Feminism, on the other hand, has no such canon to point to to make any such determinations at all.

        You may say that your contention is not with the fact that it is “human” after all, but with the fact that those particular humans are “patriarchal”, yet you have cited evidences of “Islamic law” which you describe as being “selective, partial, implemented by dictators with populist pretensions and monarchs with captive constituencies.”

        The shariah, when implemented comprehensively, has in the past cultivated truly pluralist societies that do not punish or force any other religious group to ‘conform’ to another identity, and even provided women access to courts of their own belief systems – despite this access, many non-Muslim women still preferred the justice of Islamic courts in dealing with women’s issues. Muslims thus can point, not only to a text, but to a successful history, too.

        Your dismissal of advocating sophisticated understandings of Islamic law “because patriarchy” would be the equivalent of dismissing feminism “because indeterminate”.

        Indeed, your own article could have just as easily been written about feminism, citing examples of radical feminists who commit abhorrent acts, but “not in your name”.

        As mentioned, I am sincerely interested in your response.

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      • Zaf, my more specialized writing (e.g., Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam, or my biography of Imam Shafi’i) focuses on the nitty-gritty of Muslim jurisprudence in all its sophistication and variation. I do not subscribe to the view that it is hokum or vague; indeed, the better part of my scholarly career has been devoted to exploring its systematic formulation and the nuances of particular views and jurisprudential disagreements. I advocate a full understanding of the premodern as well as modern history of legal systems in Muslim-majority societies, and the ways in which women used doctrine and courts to their advantage where possible. In those societies, just as in the modern world, “sharia” law coexisted with other forms of justice, including not only other religio-legal systems but also government courts (as in the Ottoman Empire), something that is often overlooked. In the contemporary world, the sort of “sharia” that various actors appeal to and seek to implement has little of the flexibility of the premodern version, which largely has to do with the increased surveillance powers and bureaucratic apparatus of the nation-state. I simply think it is irresponsible to pretend that there could be any “comprehensive” implementation of sharia that would give us a just, pluralist, egalitarian society that would not somehow be immune from the biases of the people who decide what it should look like. (As for feminism, I do not see it as a totalizing ideology that demands a canon to back it up but rather an overlapping set of insights and principles that help make sense of the world and help in the project of moving toward justice.) ________________________________________

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      • I meant: that *would* somehow be immune from the biases

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  12. To what extent do you think feminism or liberal thought should be a frame of reference or play a role in identifying and implementing Islamic legal rules? After all Islam does not view subjects as does the modernity project. Islam did not use the terminology of liberating oneself; but rather disciplining oneself. Not being able to rationalize everything is part of what faith is about, not being able to do things in accordance with what we might think is “our right” is part of the exercise of not listening to what “al- nafs” wants or lusts for. What is your approach to this? If you could provide some insight on this article on the limits of Muslim Liberalism, I would appreciate it http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/limits-muslim-liberalism/#.U1RprnUY0R8.facebook
    Thanks :)

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    • Leena, you’re absolutely right that self-discipline is a crucial value for Muslims. Rights, in Muslim legal thinking, are always in tension with duties – one of my colleagues insists that the word typically used for both (haqq, which also means truth, reality) should often be translated “claims” to make clear the reciprocal nature of duties. And of course human beings have a tremendous capacity for self-delusion. But there seems to be a subtext to your query that is about women wanting more than they should have, seeking liberation at the expense of God’s plan for them. In each of the cases I mentioned (Sudan, Nigeria, Brunei) the issue is not women failing at self-discipline but rather the state or a self-appointed group imposing an unhealthy and unjust vision of their own (in accordance with their own wants/lusts/vision of what is right) and claiming that it comes from God.

      I took a quick look at the article you sent and I have bookmarked it to finish reading later. Briefly, I think the issue of liberalism and alternatives to it is important, it is a larger debate that feminist theorists have engaged usefully, and I was struck by the fact that – at least in the portion of the article I read – not a single one of the dozen or two Muslim figures mentioned was female.

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      • Of course it is very true that in cases you tackled in your article, there is a clearly distorted vision and application of Shari’a.

        So let me give you an example that shows why I raise the questions I do about looking at the Quranic text from a perspective of equality and liberation. The sexual revolution and queer theory was a tremendous effort to end gender discrimination. it moved gender identities beyond male and female and we now have more than 50 different gender identities, those Gender fluid, gender variant, non-binary, agender, pangender etc… It called for using gender-neutral language and such other means to eliminate discrimination. But it just ended up messing gender identities and might have even contradicted itself by excluding what other value-based systems believe gender identities should entail. It again calls for focusing on the self, the individual. Moreover it stressed that gender identity is ever evolving but again in such cases I wonder if this is the nature of gender identities, the question arises again, how can we identify discrimination?

        Again and again this question of identifying discrimination and against what measures troubles me in both the case of feminist theory and Islamic law. How can I rethink Islamic law without altering it? bearing in mind that definitely exists immutable laws such as the one on interfaith marriage (putting aside the exceptional case you looked at in this article) where there is consensus (keeping in mind the definition of ijma’ in accordance with usul al-fiqh) among the ‘ulema that such a marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is strictly prohibited.

        One interesting example of a scholar who worked on the issue of liberalism and alternatives to women (and in doing so strongly rejects to be seen as a “Muslim Feminist”) is Heba Raouf. I would also mention other scholars such as Amira Sonbol and Saba Mahmoud.

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      • You raise important points about unintended consequences, and I do think the conversation about liberalism is an important one. You are right, too, that many women who care about gender equality reject the label feminist, sometimes for very good reasons. There seems to be an implicit assumption in your comment, though, that once upon a time gender identity was cut and dried, and that there is one universal model of male/female dimorphism that translated directly into a set of ideals about masculine and feminine that then were static for centuries until feminists and queers came along and mucked things up. History does not bear this out (behaviors and assumptions about what is appropriate and inappropriate for men and for women have varied widely among and within Muslim majority societies). Anthropology does not bear this out (see Michael Peletz on Southeast Asian Muslim ideas of a third gender). Muslim jurisprudence does not bear this out (see writings about intersex individuals who appear in fiqh texts quite disproportionately to their presence in any population). I would question, too, your notion of that the prohibition of marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslim men is among those things that is “immutable” – except, you suggest, in this exceptional case of Ibrahim. The question of who determines exceptions is a vexed one. The question of who decides the prohibition in the first place and on what basis (it is not strictly Qur’anic, for instance) is a vexed one. There have been a few scholars in recent years who have argued that such marriages are permissible under certain circumstances (generally, a convert to Islam being permitted to retain her marriage; see Chapter 1 of my Sexual Ethics and Islam, which is now somewhat outdated). In practice, plenty of Muslim women marry non-Muslim men. A handful of “imams” in the US and Canada will perform such marriages. So what does it mean to call it immutable? Their determination seems to be that the rationale behind the jurists’ prohibition, that it is improper for Muslim women to be subject to a Christian husband’s authority, does not apply in a context like the US where he cannot forbid her from worship and where she could exit the marriage without his permission if he tried. This is a much longer conversation, but I think the general point holds: decisions about legal rules are not (as another commenter suggests) being made willy-nilly or in vague ways but they have historically been made by men rather than women, and men invested in particular sorts of assumptions and worldviews. How could this but affect their thinking?

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  13. Kecia you share a good story which key principal base is logic. Islamic law is not based on logic i gues with your profound knowledge of islamic law you know that. Very interesting view though. To correct the future one need the past and Islamic laws outlive time or better stated its for all time should you exercise the choice of deploying or implementing if you so subscribe to that believe intepretation have some basese for argument but generally there is consensus on all basic principles of Sharia. Thanks intersting read much appreciated.

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  14. “we will not understand these developments in Nigeria or Brunei or the Sudan without reference to national and global politics, economics, and – in the last case – individual family dynamics; Islamic law is only part of the picture. And yet it is a key piece of the picture”.

    Fabulous !!

    Please watch “The Sharia Conundrum” – a romantic reference movie on Sharia law:-

    http://www.hasanmahmud.com/2012/index.php/videos/the-sharia-conundrum

    Best.

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  15. Salaam Kecia! Yours is really a sane and relevant voice. I live in Delhi, and I am gay. I know it doesn’t matters much except for the fact that it has such a huge bearing on my life. I have had discussions with so many of my religious friends about women, and I can only say that they depress me with their mentality. They think of so-called Sharia laws in Saudi Arab etc as best for women. Some of them openly proclaim that women should be controlled and beaten. I wonder where is such things mentioned in the Koran.I know it is not.

    There are even people among the Islamic world who think feminism is a jewish conspiracy. I think the biggest problem Islamic world faces is the collective denial of anything being wrong. Any criticism of any of the terrible laws is hailed as western propaganda. I have doubts rulers are hardly interested in any Islamic rule either. Gibbons wrote that how religion was so useful to the rulers of Rome.

    I am a huge fan of Islamic religious and scientific literature, and think that it is being held hostage by the narrow mindedness of the few people.

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    • Thank you for your comment and kind words. I think your point about one’s life experience influencing one’s perspective is vital. This is true for how one thinks about law but also how one reads scripture, as Asma Barlas pointed out years ago in her book “Believing Women” in Islam. There *are* passages in the Qur’an frequently read to justify male superiority and dominance over, and sometimes violence against, women. How convincing those readings are is a legitimate question and there is a thorough and thoughtful literature, including two books just published in the last couple of months: Ayesha Chaudhry, Domestic Violence in the Islamic Tradition and, more broadly on American women’s interpretations of the Qur’an, Aysha Hidayatullah, Feminist Edges of the Qur’an. ________________________________________

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  16. I just wanted to tell you how much I liked your post as well as how graciously you have answered some rather prickly comments. Thank you for setting such a high standard of scholarly thought and tolerant, civil interaction.

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    • Thanks for your comment. If nothing else, the range of views expressed by Muslim commenters here makes absolutely clear that there is no one “Islamic” view on any particular question. I think it also reveals just how complicated the issues at stake are.

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      • Thanks for this excellent discussion. It is informative as well as inspiring, showing how substantive issues can be debated with respect and nuance.

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      • Mary, thanks for joining the conversation. One of the things you reminded me of when we were working on the Guide for Women in Religion earlier this year was that disagreement isn’t itself a problem; it’s how one handles it. We can’t resolve all world’s problems, but addressing them in productive and respectful ways is already part of the solution.

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  17. The trouble of Islam today is that most Muslim believe two books as Islamic teaching. Namely Holy Book Al Quran and the book of Hadist .
    Aswe know that Holy Al quran created by God alone, and the book of Hadits created by human. God never recognize the book of Hadits, and Prophet Muhammad never examine the book of Hadits. The book of Hadits was complied aound 200 year after Prophet death. So we believe that there are some false / fabricated Hadits.
    .
    The source of apostasy, blasphemy, Homosexual, stone to death from the book of Hadits and also written in Old testament or Torah. These ancient laws do not fit in 21st century anymore.
    .
    These laws do not exist in The last testament, Al Quran. Allah already changed / reform old laws in Al Quran. Allah said in Al quran there is no compulsion in Islamic teaching,
    .
    The root of violence is the book of Hadits.
    We moderately educated Muslim who live in 21st Century have to speak up loudly abolish all violent Hadits from the book of Hadits. The main key can be done is in the hand of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where Islam was born. He must declare publicly to abolish all violent / false Hadits from the book of Hadits. If he can do it, he will be a excellent reformer in 21st century,his legacy will be remembered for ever. If he can do it, this ugly image of Islam or this violence will not stop for ever, because extremist Muslim will justify their act thought the book of Hadits.
    .
    May God guide King Abdullah and Muslim Scholars to abolish all false hadits from the book of Hadits.amen

    Love for all hatred for none
    The difference is mercy for wise man
    The difference is disastrous for ignorant man.
    Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid
    Proverbs 12:1

    Like

    • muslim for seculer democracy,

      I am one of you. Your posting is just opinion; without reference it doesn’t do much. Here in this thread I posted link of SHARIA CONUNDRUM, my 3rd Sharia-movie, a romantic story full with hard Islamic references but I didn’t get any feedback. This is for you – DIVINE STONE- my 2nd Sharia movie. Please use PAUSE button to read the references and keep tissue paper handy – you may need it at the end. It worked magic in creating public awareness in Muslim society about Sharia law:-

      http://www.hasanmahmud.com/2012/index.php/videos/the-divine-stone

      Best.

      Like

    • Thank you for your impassioned comment. It makes clear that there are debates among Muslims not only about how to read texts but also which texts should be considered canonical. ________________________________________

      Like

  18. Thanks to my father who informed me about this weblog, this weblog
    is in fact amazing.

    Like

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  1. Whose Sharia Is It? | Omaha Sun Times
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