SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives: Introduction by Mai Yamani

This book brings together renowned women researchers and academics historians, political scientists, lawyers, sociologists, social anthropologists and literary critics, who examine the phenomenon of feminism within the Islamic cultural framework.

There is already a wide range of theories and expressions of behaviour related to feminism world-wide: legal feminism, Marxist feminism, cultural feminism, liberal feminism, post-modern feminism . . . "Feminists do not all think the same way or even about the same kinds of problems."1

This book adds yet another layer by introducing a feminism which is Islamic in its form and content. With the typology now embracing religion as a new complex of references, such feminism is unique in conjuring up delicate and challenging issues for political and religious authorities as well as for scholars in a world of a billion Muslims. Within that new overarching background which deals with Islamic laws and traditions, the category of Islamic feminism may stand its ground by the sheer diversity it includes: contributors to the debate have been considered new feminist traditionalists, pragmatists, secular feminists, neo-Islamists, and so forth. For all these thinkers, however, there is a common concern with the empowerment of their gender within a rethought Islam.2

The question of what is intrinsically Islamic with respect to ideas about women and gender remains complicated by several clichs which have been confused with Islam, e.g. female circumcision and the concept of crimes of honour. Here a return to history is required, looking at religious texts and fiqh documents in a more critical and objective manner.

The collection also identifies obstacles facing those women who aim at equality in areas of family law and civil rights. Concepts of gender in societies that preceded early Islamic society are examined in order to better understand the foundation of Islamic discourses.3 With the book focusing on Islamic legal feminism, traditional interpretations of Islamic law are confronted by women feminists and scholars with a determined, if not always easy, strategy renovating the field. In an increasingly rich and effective literature, this book features also studies which shed light on the treatment of women by the Islamic legal system and investigate factors that are preparing the ground for new reformed schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

Although the general concern over a broad definition of Islamic feminism offers the common underlying theme, the fight for increased rights for women is not always presented in traditional Islamic terms. In addition, not all Muslim states and societies should necessarily be termed Islamic. Sizeable Christian communities also come under examination. Comparison between religious and secular laws concerning women are useful in that context, as are the complex legal areas where the traditions need to accompany mixed marriages and marriages contracted abroad.

With all their diversity and the different contexts in which they were written, several chapters highlight surrounding social and political conditions for the flourishing of organised women's feminist movements in Muslim countries, movements that aim at the amelioration of the status of women primarily by the utilisation of Islamic rights.

The societies studied by the authors in this volume are geographically, culturally and politically diverse. There is no uniformity in Islamic law across Muslim countries, 4and the book does not try to cover the full scope of Muslim societies. It does seek however to offer a significant range of shared social problems covering women's economic activities, political power, domestic and social relations and attempts to underline strategies and practical analyses that are current in the wide Muslim world.

Be the diversity of Muslim societies as it may, the collection was intended to contribute to the enrichment of the field, a better understanding of which must surely be a further step on the way of liberation and equality.5 One hopes that this volume will show that in a dynamic and critical world, Islam cannot but be viewed critically and objectively. The reinterpretation of the Qur'an is not a new practice. The Qur'an has been interpreted and reinterpreted from the time of Revelation to the present, including by women. Whilst most interpretations have been products of the discourse of male ulama, women's Islamic discourses are starting to provide significant counterpoints, including in the rereading of Islamic religious texts with attention given to the female figures of the early Islamic polity.6

The papers have been accordingly grouped into four sections. The first, Beginnings and History, contains the chapters dealing with the historical context. The second, on the Language of Literature and Culture, covers the treatment of women's issues in recent Arabic literature and in social perceptions. The third section, the Politics of Interpretations examines the interface between politics and words as they shape the world of women from Iran to Egypt. The fourth part defines the Confines of Law in which women are able to operate. Whilst the present introduction does not aim to reduce the unusual richness of the contribution to bland summaries, it might be helpful to rapidly sketch some of the ideas which are forcefully emerging in the process of investigation.

Beginnings and History

Afaf Lutfi Al-Sayyid Marsot bases her argument on the position of women in a historical survey of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. She shows that woman's position is determined not so much by the principles of Islam as by social practices. Only against a well-studied historical context are feminists able to analyse the factors that favour women's equality and those that hinder their rise to prominence. These factors are related to the political structure. The chapter examines economic power ascribed to Muslim women and highlights the difference between the ideal and practice in Islamic societies. Although it is a fact that Islam offers economic capacity to women with regard to ownership and control of wealth, in practice there were periods where these rights could not be fully exercised. For example, while the Qur'an clearly lays down that women can inherit (usually half of the share of a man of equivalent connection to the praepositus), in some Muslim societies their share was cut, with properties transformed into trust, waqf.7 The dowry, mahr, legally owing to the bride, has often been retained in practice by her family. Furthermore, since there is no concept of joint property in Islam, her wealth is, in some cases, unjustly used by her husband as his own.

Political, economic and social factors determined women's economic participation in the 18th-century. The government in Egypt was then decentralised, with the Mamluks fighting each other in a struggle for supremacy. Their fear of death and of the confiscation of their properties led them to give it to their wives. Women as a result inherited substantial wealth from their fathers and husbands and it was often the case that a woman was married more than once. On the religious side, the 'ulama were powerful in the legal and commercial world and hence promoted business and dealt with and supported women in court. Women sued in court for divorce and although they needed agents in their business enterprises, they had full control over their property. During that period, entrepreneurial women mostly engaged in property related activities the buying and selling of land. The political and religious set-up and the economic circumstances clearly favoured women's entrepreneurial efforts in that epoch.

The chapter then shows how political authority can change the position of women in a Muslim society. In the 19th-century the government was centralised and the marginalisation of the position of the ulama,8 together with the British presence caused a significant set back to women's economic participation. Egyptian wealth became increasingly controlled by the state Muhammad Ali, who governed Egypt over much of the first half of the century, rewarded people he favoured, but these were not women. Women lost their rights to participation in banks and they lost their links with the ulama, who, in turn had lost their judicial duties. The decline in women's status and loss of rights filtered down through society. Under the new order the women fallahs (peasants who worked as labourers) were paid half the wages of men. Native Egyptian women's economic rights based on Islam were diminished as Western British influence took over. Victorian standards of women being mere wives or decorative appendages to their husbands took over. Rather than progress, this was clearly a step back following a departure from basic Islamic teachings.

The beginning of the 20th Century saw again radical changes in political rule. Egyptian independence offered women another opportunity to re-establish independent professional status. The route they took was gradual at first they engaged in benevolent social work and eventually made it to paid professional jobs. Education for women and especially university education during the 1930s was their most important tool. Marsot also points out that once women had demonstrated in the streets, they crossed a point of no return. Once women become aware of their rights it was too late to go back.

Rather than merely copying the Western model, Egyptian women fought for rights. The tools women had was their knowledge of their rights within Islam generally and the exercise of their economic rights in particular. At the same time, it was necessary to take account of ambiguous popular concepts relating to such issues as the veil, which according to Marsot, expresses both women's need of protection and subordination. It is against this peculiar history that, rather than through a mimicking of processes specific to Western feminism, women will be able to channel their efforts towards achieving greater gender equality.

In her study of the law of marriage, and in particular the Fatawa Alamgiri of the 17th-century Hanafi Sunni school, Mona Siddiqui examines some rights granted to women in Islam and the measures taken by a male dominated society to circumvent or restrict those rights. Historically, legal literature reflects the nature of Islamic society the law of marriage in particular shows patterns of behaviour between people. The function of marriage, other than legitimising sexual intercourse, is tied to the distribution of wealth and the preservation of the social hierarchy.9 This makes marriage choices restricted to particular juristic interpretation rarely based on concepts of love, rather on the Islamic principle of kafa'a, which is translated as equality or compatibility between the spouses. Kafa'a establishes six points of reference: (1) descent, (2) Islam, (3) freedom, (4) wealth, (5) piety, and (6) profession.

Siddiqui examines the tensions between prescription and preference within the theory of kafa'a, equality or compatibility in marriage. Women are generally not allowed enough leeway or choices within the principle of kafa'a, which offers preferential elements that are not fully enjoyed. So much in the principle of kafa'a is debatable, however, that social expectations of particular behaviour of women remain restrictive.

Women's rights are sometimes restricted because of social and religious norms. For example, Hanafi Sunni school, unlike the other Sunni schools, gives women the legal capacity to be her own wali, in other words, to marry without the consent of her wali or male guardian. But society attaches to this a taint of shamelessness despite the legal parameters. This reflects society's reluctance to equate the observance of legal rights with approved behaviour. A womans freedom is circumscribed by social conventions (such as the idea of shame) which are marginal to the legal system.

Siddiqui concludes that due to the increase in women's education and employment in most Muslim countries, gender boundaries or roles that still remain must be modified with the general social changes. As women work with men in less segregated atmospheres, women feel and acknowledge their own social and emotional needs. When choosing a husband the concept of love will play a significant role. However, Siddiqui observes that women on the whole still hold onto the rule of compatibility, they choose as husbands men from comparable socio-economic backgrounds. Legal principles of kafa'a are flexible enough to allow women more freedom of choice than they are actually taking. So far, laws were interpreted by men in their favour. With women's greater understanding of the concept of preference in kafa'a, the more rigid boundaries of this principle will eventually fade away.

Ghada Karmi attempts to examine the source of patriarchy within Islam and questions the role of religion in maintaining patriarchal structure. Karmi's approach can be classified as modernist or pragmatic, she is among those who see Islamic reform as necessary, but not as the only step required to change women's political and social situation. They advocate secular action and look at the interplay of practical factors in order to explain women's status. Karmi questions the conventional wisdom that Islam originally improved the status of women, previously accorded very few rights in a pre-Islamic world, and considers whether the patriarchal system10 that promotes the superiority of men and demeans the status of women in Arab countries is derived from or legitimised by Islamic law itself. Based on the literature of the pre-Islamic period, Karmi posits that women were better off in terms of personal legal status and independence than after the advent of Islam when rules of subjugation of women were introduced.

She refers to some scholarly work on the period which shows that marriage customs were flexible, that matriarchal rule was prevalent and that polyandry existed alongside polygamy hence a more equal, balanced order of relationships appears to have existed between the sexes. Karmi, as others who question or doubt the improvement in the status of women after the advent of Islam, gives the example of Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet who was a prominent trader before the advent of Islam. Looking at the matrimonial life of the Prophet Muhammad, and comparing the first part which was monogamous with Khadija as the Prophet's only wife, with the second part which was polygamous, she views a deterioration of the position of the wife. In the same vein, although A'isha's religious or political prominence was viewed as acceptable during the transitional phase from the Jahiliyya (period of ignorance) to early Islam,11 the assessment of subsequent Islamic scholars made her role as an active and committed protagonist controversial.

Karmi expresses the conflict that some Muslim women experience. Despite their devotion to the spiritual text, they increasingly question their right to equality. In her opinion, women are transformed into non-adults in the Qur'an to be provided for economically, their testimony not given the weight of men's. This can be clearly seen in the context of women's status with regard to divorce, custody and polygamy, all of which favour men.

In Karmi's opinion, it is useless to continue with standard pieties that some adherents to Islam repeat to justify inequalities. Instead, real reform is needed especially in the field of family law, such as that in Tunisia when polygamy was abolished. Ijtihad (independent reasoning) is called for and Karmi suggests that the solution to the conflicting issues on women could be found in a more objective study of the Qur'an in its historical and social context. The Qur'anic precepts must be seen as a function of social dynamics rather than used as a fixed text legitimising rigid patriarchal claims.

In contrast, it is the traditional Islamic position which is expounded by Raja' El-Nimr, who believes that because the Qur'an contains God's divine words, there is no need for interpretation if the correct meaning is acted upon. By examining the historical context in which Islam was revealed, she shows that compared to other societies at the time (the Indian and the French, for example, in the 16th-century), Islam did provide women with significant rights and from this point she argues that since women were better off under Islam during the Golden Age, they could still enjoy rights and privileges today. This is because for her, Islam is both divine and evolutionary. In other words, the divine nature of the Qur;an incorporates an evolutionary quality making it appropriate at every point in history. El-Nimr goes a degree further in emphasising that women should not demand more rights or for equality, except in the spiritual domain, since women are fundamentally different in nature from men. This is an expression of the divine will, women cannot choose for themselves better lives than God has prescribed for them.

On this basis she finds justifications for areas of apparent inequality that other writers consider challenging and degrading. These comprise the degree; or advantage (daraja) men have over women, explained as man's natural gift for judging domestic matters, man's ability to put up with his wife's bad mood or the principle of male guardianship. Likewise, El-Nimr says that there is nothing demeaning in the evidence of a female witness being considered as having half the weight of a man's. This is justified by the nature of women: their fluctuating moods and mental incapacity during menstruation, pregnancy and post natal depression. The same applies to polygamy which is, at times, acceptable, despite objections by some modernists.

El-Nimr contends that the constant preoccupation with the role and status of Muslim women is a Western obsession which should not distract Muslims from their duty to follow the direct commands of God, conveyed through the Qur;an and Prophet.

The Language of Literature and Culture

Liz McKee's distinctive contribution looks at women in society as portrayed in works of Arab women writers. She takes issues with those critics who have characterised these works as being of a purely feminist nature. She feels that such an approach overlooks the political and social resonance of the works and suggests that these works are better viewed in the light of recent literary theory than through the narrow focus of Anglo-American feminist critical thought. McKee notes that women's writing is not fundamentally different from male fiction in regard to the socio-political issues. The difference is in the structural variation from male writing which is responsible for producing the change in emphasis within the female novel form.

She examines the work of seven Arab women novelists drawing attention to the strong political allegories and ideological debates as well as the articulation of female protest against social injustice. She uses as a framework of analysis, a modification of Ren Girard's model of triangular desire which refers to the conflicts of desire between a subject, his or her mediator and a shared object of desire. Using this model she examines Layla Balabakki's Ana Ahya, Sahar Khalifah's Al-Sabbar, Ghadah al-Samman's Beirut 75 and Hamidah Nalna's Al-Watan fi al -Aynayn.

McKee notes the textual planes that lie in Ana Ahya: an existential level, a political level and a sexual-gender level. In her argument against falling into a narrow definition or a rigid view of feminism she refers to Gadah al-Samman's writing; specifically as to how critics focused on the writer's views on the emancipation of women and the sexual revolution rather more than her commitment to political issues.

The novels address national and political ambiguities. A pure focus on feminist issues reduces important literary works to a marginal and unidimensional importance, and McKee calls for a revision of the feminist agenda by avoiding to look at the works of Arab women writers outside their political context.

Lama Abu-Odeh takes on an urgent issue that concerns the position of women in Arab countries, that of the crime of honour, a paradigmatic example of which is the killing of a woman by her father or brother for engaging in, or being suspected of engaging in, sexual practices before or outside marriage. She analyses the origins of the laws, tracing its origins from the Ottoman and French Penal Codes, and examines the effect of the intervention of the Arab nationalist elite in the social and legal fields.

Through the process of codification, this intervention has tried to modernise this traditional practice by defining certain limits and providing penalties for those that transgress these limits. The scope of this intervention has varied from country to country. Abu-Odeh notes that in Algeria the tendency is more towards crimes of passion, where both the husband and wife benefit, while in Jordan the code is more rigid with only men benefiting. She offers an anthropological survey of the societies where these crimes of honour occur, with special attention given to the preoccupation (to the point of obsession) with virginity as the regulatory practice of gender. This preoccupation is not limited to the physical virginity of women and the physical hymen, but also with what she calls the social hymen, which is the symbol of virginity, publicised for the benefit of the social audience. The social hymen delimits borders, and prescribes a whole set of rules and regulations for women. Crimes of honour can occur when any of these borders are crossed.

Abu-Odeh points to the fact that the social function of crimes of honour changed from being merely the punishment of vice to becoming a means of constructing gender relations within society. Here, she examines a complex triangle of interaction between state violence, social violence and crimes of honour. She explains how the attempt of the nationalist elites to modernise institutions while wanting to preserve certain traditions, had an effect on the area of codification. Within their ideology, they did contribute to creating a new woman; educated and employed, unlike her mother, but at the same time not Westernised. The emergence of this new woman; has changed the previous boundaries of the social hymen.

Within this dynamic situation, Lama Abu-Odeh examines new types of women ranging from the sexy virgin; to the virgin of love, the coquette, the GAP girl, the slut; and the tease. Then she goes on to describe their male counterparts such as the virgin by default; the predator, the romantic virgin, the virginal virgin by default; and the predator manqu. She concludes that what was imposed by the nationalist elites in their attempt to modernise and crystallise social practice did not affect them. The victims of crimes of honour are generally poor peasant women whose murderers are excused by the judiciary whatever the legal provisions may be.

She argues for the abolition of the concept of crimes of honour and their replacement by gender unspecific crimes of passion. She also states that feminists in Arab countries have not taken this cause more seriously for fear of being branded as advocating Western style promiscuity and licentiousness. She argues that this fear is unfounded as every society has means of controlling sexual behaviour short of execution.

The Politics of Interpretations

Haleh Afshar, Maha Azzam, Jean Makdisi, Munira Fakhro and I, show how women, in countries where Islam is used to legitimise political, social and economic activities, have succeeded (or failed) to use the dynamism of the religious framework to win rights for themselves.

Haleh Afshar's paper illustrate how Iranian women located their political actions in the context of Islam. She examines this process, looking into how women who had a leading prominent role during the revolution found themselves marginalised after the Islamic government was installed. For example, women could not become judges; in qisas law a woman was viewed as half a man and the murder of a woman was not a capital offence while a murder of a man was. However, by staying within the Islamic context and strongly arguing their position in every available form, Iranian feminists were able to make considerable progress in the political and educational fields following this initial setback.

Afshar argues that Islamic history offers modern feminist role models (instead of Western ones that are alien to them and generally viewed as a tool of patriarchal capitalism). These Islamic role models are used to accommodate present needs. This is the case of Khadija, known for her economic independence,'A'isha, for her political skill and religious knowledge and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, who symbolises morality and strength. Afshar demonstrates how, through both religious arguments and compromises, including the acceptance of the veil, which they turned into a feminist tool, women in the beginning of the 1990s were confirmed as equals in parliament and regained some of their positions within the liberal professions.

Women also made wider gains in education and in terms of job opportunities. Afshar gives examples of a number of prominent Iranian feminists some active members of the women's Society of the Islamic Revolution; and leading Islamic feminists who demanded Islamic; rights. Education is prescribed for all Muslims and this enabled prominent women to fight against discrimination in medical education. The process naturally entailed setbacks and resistance; on the basis of negative 'Islamic' interpretations, such as "it is not in the nature of women to become judges", women have still to storm some crucial legal bastions.

The theme of Muslim women seeking their rights from within religious culture and not from outside it, that is from Western ideas and values, is clearly portrayed in Maha Azzam's paper with particular reference to the Islamist movement in Egypt. The view could be seen as representative of the 'new feminists traditionalists'. She notes the flexibility of Islamic thought and refers to the different interpretations of the Qur'an by modernists, secularists and traditionalists.

In societies such as Egypt where economic malaise has led to a fundamental political reassessment, the answer for many men and women lies in an Islamic orientation, a return to orthodoxy and a refusal of things un-Islamic. Azzam surveys some of the alternatives which the orthodox discourse; offers women. She traces the fast and widely spread appeal of orthodox Islam at Islamic schools, at the universities and in politicised Islamic groups. The emergence of the latter marks a new stage for women from across the Middle East, who are increasingly taking part in Islamist political movements in their respective countries. All political participation in this context is presented under the Islamic umbrella.

The hijab is central to this Islamist movement. In general, women who choose to wear it are aware of its social and economic advantages. These range from more possibilities for getting married (since men prefer muhajjabat) to economic practicalities (low cost dress). Despite this umbrella of acceptability that Islam offers and despite the fact that the role models such as Nafisa Sheikha Shuhda (an authority on hadith) remain inspirational to Muslim women, there are no immediate solutions or arguments proposed by Islamic women to some of the obvious areas of inequality in family law, divorce, custody, polygamy or inheritance. This is in marked contrast to their counterparts in Iran pointed out by Mir-Hosseini and Afshar. However, Egyptian women have obtained more prominent jobs because of a different economic and political past. Azzam's paper concludes that since the Islamic legal framework can liberate; or constrain; both men and women, Islam remains the alternative for the masses and a route to empowerment within an environment of increasing Islamisation.

Jean Said Makdisi focuses on women in Lebanon and examines a number of issues that are of vital importance to women generally (Christian and Muslim) in the Middle East and to women in Islamic countries. Women are visible in Lebanon working in banks, hospitals, shops and the media, however their real influence in the country is severely restricted: women are rarely active in political positions and in senior posts of the public administration except in some cases through their ties to important men. Makdisi blames this on the lack of true democratic institutions. There are barriers between class, gender and religious sects that do not help the idea of equality in general nor the organised women's movement in the country.

By questioning basic concepts of what is modern; versus what is traditional, she gives contemporary and actual examples of how misleading such dichotomies can be and how they can become a barrier against a real understanding of issues concerning women and a hindrance to their advancement: advancement not only in terms of being visible in society but in moving into positions of power and decision making in their country.

Makdisi blames the lack of movement partly on the tendency to judge modernity; by sect, dress, or language. She shows how the woman who is well-dressed in European modern clothes and tied to a consumer's life style, whilst remaining subservient to her husband, is seen as modern because of her knowledge of Western languages and her costume. On the other hand her poorer counterpart who is less fashionably dressed keeping the traditional head cover and knowing only Arabic but who works in the fields or factories and has perhaps joined an underground movement against the Israeli occupation this woman with her independence, political awareness and economic competition even vis-a-vis her husband, is considered, because of her appearance, dress and language, backward or traditional.

Makdisi goes back in time to examine the historical basis for such social classifications and dichotomies. She notes that the background to the historic misunderstandings which divide women lie in the educational system established since the early 19th-century European and American foreign schools brought new ideas, new clothes, new languages and new manners. In Lebanon, unlike other Arab countries, these still remained the socially admired models even after the colonial period was over.

Christian schools with Western curricula became the example of what is modern. Most importantly, Makdisi states that women's advancement or equality can only take place within a less divided society. Class barriers hinder true liberation. Unless there is more democracy in Lebanon and elsewhere in Arab countries there can be no effective organised movement that demands an end to political exclusion on the basis of democratic justice.

As a prerequisite for women's involvement in the political sphere, Makdisi states that governments must be more flexible, that is, they should be more democratic. To illustrate this she makes an interesting observation that during periods of anomaly and anarchy, women flourished in Lebanon. She gives the particular example of the civil war that started in 1975. During that period of chaos as the state and institutions were less powerful, women dominated the scene. Meanwhile old concepts of honour and respect for mothers protected women from the dangers of the war. When the war ended and the state resumed its influence women were marginalised again. Furthermore, the murder of a movement cannot be based on a Western feminist model. Arab women view the latter as defective because it ignores the role of motherhood and has been viewed as partly responsible for the disintegration of the western family.

Munira Fakhro's paper sees the possibility of women's rights being advanced within an Islamic framework provided that governments in the region allow for a democratic system that would lead to reforms in various domains including women's rights. In order to illustrate this modernist pragmatist concept, she compares the approaches of two known scholars who believe that the door to interpretation of the sharia is open and recommend new guidelines regarding women. The research of the first scholar, Muhammad Shahrur, specifically addresses the issue of polygamy, of sadaq (dowry), women's attire, women's rights to political activities, marriage contracts and divorce. The second, Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa, examines women's Islamic personality and equality, the concept of decency; in dress, women's participation in social life and the family, namely the choices women have in marriage and divorce. Fakhro surveys some of these issues in the Gulf States of Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She calls for reformed family law in the Gulf region as others have done during the 20th-century (Tunisia's banning of polygamy and Syria's reforms of divorce laws). This can only be achieved if the ruling elites in the Gulf are prepared, or forced, to make concessions.

My paper describes women attempting to achieve social status and power through observing strict Islamic values. Women have turned to 'Islamic' ways of social and economic empowerment and have gained a degree of freedom of movement that cannot be challenged by the authorities because they use the legitimate language of the nation. The paper describes how this movement is a result of the interlinked political and religious systems of Saudi Arabia. The socio-political mood in Saudi Arabia is currently heavily Islamic, as Islam serves to legitimise all activities.

Saudi women have become a symbol of Islamic ideals. The honour of the family at one level and on another level the honour of the nation rests on the shoulders of the women. Strict segregation of the sexes in all spheres restricts physical mobility. Women are not allowed to drive cars, the black veil is compulsory, whilst in public forms part of the national policy. The paper notes that even after political reforms in 1992 women remain excluded from any public role.

A disjunction is created in a country where large numbers of women are educated at universities and are exposed to the outside world, yet remain confined to traditional Islamic ideals requiring them to stay at home with very few jobs being 'suitable' for them. This results in new internal pressures that express themselves in diverse ways. Under the present system, the more liberal, Westernised attempts at reforms by women are immediately undermined because they are not speaking the language of the nation and are easily suppressed by the authorities. However, those who adopt the newly developed, stricter veil, and arm themselves with knowledge of Islamic avenues to power (for example, with respect to their personal economic capacity), find themselves better able to confront local obstacles to the advancement of women.

Women have made headway in the area of segregated employment and segregated business enterprises such as the women's branches of banks and women's shops. In addition they are able to get out of the house in their strict veil and thus have gained greater physical mobility. These women have created their own social and religious space.

The Confines of Law

Ziba Mir-Hosseini focuses upon the contemporary feminist movements in Iran. She offers an in-depth analysis of the structure and shape that this movement is taking. The main legal issues under debate by these feminists are published in a revolutionary women's magazine, Zanan. The chapter examines a number of feminist issues such as obedience to one's husband, tamkin, disobedience towards one's husband, nushuz, maintenance, nafaqa, the law of retribution, qisas, and polygamy from their initial analysis through the active debate conducted in the pages of Zanan, and presented by feminists and male jurists to a final resolution of these issues at the level of the religious authorities in Qum and at the level of parliament. In dealing directly with these specifically Islamic issues, she creates a clearly defined Islamic agenda for reform.

Post-revolutionary Iranian feminists have challenged the hegemony of the orthodox interpretative process and succeeded in creating changes in divorce laws, making a complete U-turn for women;s financial rights after divorce. Mir-Hosseini illustrates the process in which the arguments on a particular issue are developed in this literary magazine a process of logical reasoning and in surveys of jurists; opinions. For example, the concept of tamkin which is generally understood to involve the woman;s obligation to sexual demands of her husband at all times and his right to physically beat her if she disobeys him, is examined by a male cleric from Qum12 who refers to the original source - the Qur'anic verse (Surat al-Hujurat). Through analysis of the context and meaning of the verse, he presents his arguments that tamkin must be mutual between husband and wife and that there are several alternatives to each situation depending on the circumstances or natural inclination of the woman. Different Islamic scenarios are extracted; if a woman is economically independent she should not have to put up with an unjust tamkin for we can take the example of Khadija who was a secure wealthy woman but remained loyal to her husband the Prophet Muhammad. Likewise the literature attempts to secure better financial situations for women in Iran regarding wives; maintenance during marriage, nafaqa. By going back to the basic sources the Qur'an and the Sunna and by arguing against some interpretations of fiqh those who claim that nafaqa does not include medical expenses they succeeded in forming an opinion that it does.

Another example of the appeal for equality discussed in the pages of Zanan concerns punishment qisas and the protest against gender biases in the courts. Zanan published several written appeals to the law-making authorities with thorough Islamic arguments for better rights for women. Mir-Hosseini points to the fact that although the discourses stay entirely within Shi'a Islam, they are not part of the establishment. In fact, they challenge the hegemony of the orthodox interpretative process. The success or even the acceptability of these feminist discourses is made possible by the Shi'a acceptance of ijtihad and the possibility of reinterpreting Qur;anic verses. These women do not take on a Western feminist language but one of Shi'a thought. Their issues, tamkin, nafaqa, etc., are those that pertain to the everyday life of Iranian Muslim women, but they are also universal issues dealing with power relations between men and women, such as marriage, divorce and custody. Among the 'neo Islamists', Iranian women themselves appear to be in a special group or category.

Souad Mokbel-Wensley highlights what she sees as a discrepancy between the tenets of the Lebanese Constitution and some aspects of the legal system concerning women. For example, according to the constitution women are equal to men, but Wensley points out that this 'legal capacity' only exists unless the law provides otherwise. She substantiates this by outlining a number of outstanding areas in which the principles of equality are violated. These are in the areas of nationality law, commercial law, life insurance and criminal law with specific regard to adultery and crimes of honour. For example with regards to nationality, a Lebanese woman married to a non-Lebanese man cannot pass her nationality on to her children while a man can. With regard to the ability of the married woman to trade (until the reforms passed just recently), she looses her capacity to trade after marriage if not granted consent by her spouse. This consent can also be cancelled for just motives; all this despite the fact that 'community of property' does not exist between husband and wife under Lebanese law. The worst discrimination, according to Wensley, is under what are classed as crimes of honour. Article 562 of the Penal Code allows legal exemption of any male committing unpremeditated homicide or injury upon surprising his spouse, a female forebear, daughter and other female descendant in flagrante delicto of adultery or illegitimate sexual act with a third person. Wensley identifies these as areas urgently in need of change not only because they conflict with internationally set standards of human rights, but also because they stand out as contradictory to the Lebanese Constitution. Wensley exposes these laws as not just unconstitutional but as patriarchy masquerading as law.

Najla Hamadeh examines the suppression of free expression - what she calls the 'authoritarian discourse of silence' in Muslim countries with particular emphasis on Islamic family legislation. She argues that the religious and political powers conspire to impose silence on all dissenters and examines this thesis in the contexts of divorce and custody. The laws of divorce and custody according to Hamadeh, as they stand today, are based on weak arguments and little common sense. Although they are derived from the Qur'an and the Sunna they have been twisted by male legislators in directions that they see as favourable for them. Islamic legislators chose to interpret Islam in a way that diminishes the rights of women. She illustrates this in the case of divorce where under most family laws, among Sunni and Shi'a groups, there is no way out of a marriage for a woman whose husband refuses to liberate, thereby disregarding the Islamic command "Do not retain them (your wives) by force, to transgress (against their rights)". In contrast, Islamic family law makes divorce extremely easy for men, regardless of the Prophet;s hadith that describes divorce as abhorrent to God and difficult for women to find a way out of an intolerable marriage.

Hence, for a wife, the marriage contract becomes akin to a form of bondage to her husband that cannot be revoked by her will alone. As Hamadeh points out this is not in harmony with what is generally known about the life of the Prophet who considered a wife's disinclination to himself tantamount to breaking the marriage contract. The reasons given for the wife's disqualification from the right to divorce are generally based on women's emotional nature.

Hamadeh goes on to show that few of these arguments make any sense nor do they comply with reality. Furthermore, she explains that in order to justify treating women as owned objects, Islamic family law emphasises men's economic obligations towards their wives such as the mahr, bride price. This results in treating the marital relationship as one between buyer and bought and in connecting nushuz with the giving of sexual gratification to the husband as a material obligation.

Hamadeh further contrasts the rights attributed to motherhood prominent in the Qur'an, and the dictates of Islamic family law which gives custody to mothers for only the first few years of her children's lives. Once again economic explanations and justification have traditionally been made on the grounds that women are not capable of educating a child once it has been weaned. Hamadeh argues that even if this was the case, in the past with mothers who had been refused access to education themselves, times have changed and women are now increasingly involved as educators themselves, at all levels of the school system. Social circumstances have changed and Islam being a dynamic religion must meet these new situations.

Hamadeh concludes that by Islamic jurisprudence imposing silence on the multitudes and serving totalitarian rule it has deviated from true Islam and is consciously reserving more power for the male gender. She calls on Islamic communities to restore family law from stagnation. Continuous interpretation of the Qur'an is needed and more open discourse of its subjects. Opposition to political totalitarian rule is essential to break the monologue that suffers from intellectual sterility.

Jane Connors studies the position of women in Muslim countries in the light of the Women's Convention (1979) drafted for the United Nations Decade for Women. By examining the reservations entered by participating Muslim states with reference to the shari'a, she arrives at the conclusion that there is a possible way forward to the easing of the tensions between some Islamic countries and certain Northern European and American States on the issue of the reservations unacceptable to the international community.

Connors' analysis reveals that a number of reservations entered by Islamic; states to the Women's Convention are based not so much on the sharia as on local practice and convention. For example, Turkey's reservations relating to article 29 and to parts of articles 15 and of 16 on civil matters and the legal capacity of women which are considered incompatible with the provisions of the Turkish Civil Code. Likewise, the rules of succession in Morocco conflict with paragraphs in article 2 of the Covenant. Likewise, article 9 which grants women equal rights with respect to nationality was met by reservation by Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia on the basis of local nationality codes.

In general, she finds that in matters of personal law such as marriage, divorce and custody, the shari'a is quite specific and therefore it would be more difficult to persuade states such as Morocco or Egypt to provide for equality between men and women basically to comply with article 16 that addresses the private sphere of public life. The above 'Islamic' countries strongly argue that Islamic law offers financial rights to the wife - the dower at marriage, her husband maintains her financially during marriage, meanwhile her property is always separate and all hers, etc. For these financial rights she is obliged to him and hence unequal in other areas or situations, for example, divorce. This is perceived as the balance of relationships. Strong arguments are used to maintain the patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal order of things, in an attempt to maintain distinctive Islamic laws.

In matters of public law, however, dealing with issues such as employment, political participation, education and economic rights, the sharia is more vague and here Connors perceives the possibility to bring Islamic countries in line with the Women;s Convention. To this end, she urges scholars "to discern norms of non-discrimination and equality in the Holy Qur;an, the Sunna and the early commentaries".


When we view these papers as a whole, a number of challenging questions and themes suggest themselves. Firstly, did Islam help the position of women? El Nimr strongly feels that in comparison with other systems, it did, while Karmi seriously questions this. On the other hand, Siddiqi and Marsot believe that it is not so much Islam that determines the status of women but other political, economic and social issues that are merged with Islamic precepts. Hamadeh stresses that the basic sources (Qur'an and Sunna) did improve the status of women during the period of early Islam and provide the potential for a contemporary movement towards equality.

The debate still continues elsewhere. Most scholars conclude that the Qur'an did bring in some reforms including the outlawing of infanticide, the payment of dower to the bride and female inheritance as well as women's control over property. However, free divorce remains an exclusively male preserve. It remains a matter of interpretation which Leila Ahmed noted: "The message of Islam as instituted by Mohammed's teachings and practice comprehended two tendencies that were in tension with each other, patriarchal marriage and male dominance and yet Islam preached ethical egalitarianism."13 Here the question arises as to what is Islamic and what is not. Is the veil prescribed in the Qur'an? Several of the papers address the symbolic and practical uses of the veil and the results of their investigations have yielded a picture quite different to that in popular Western perception. Lutfi Al-Sayyid considers that the veil expresses the female need to be protected. She also points out that it is too late for those high-profile working women whose grandmothers participated in the Egyptian nationalist movement to choose to veil. Furthermore, the veil cannot necessarily be considered Islamic as it is not known what Muslim women wore in the time of the Prophet. Afshar in her studies of women in contemporary Iran approaches the veil from a different angle. Under the Islamic government this garment has gained a liberating dimension, freeing women from the fashion industry as well as the freedom for the wearer to become an observer and not one of the observed, thus bypassing sexual harassment and gaining respect. Since it is compulsory in Iran, accepting it represents one of the compromises made to reach political and economic power but more than that, it has itself become a feminist tool. A similar opinion about the veil is presented by Azzam who looks at the economic practicalities and element of moral superiority that it offers young Egyptian women. The veil in Egypt in worn by women Islamists out of choice. It gives them membership of an Islamic club offering a framework of hope in times of political and economic decline.

Fakhro's examination of the works of Shahrur and Abu Shaqqa also addresses the issue of the veil They both question the attire of women and the concept of decency; in dress for women in Islam and believe it is a matter of social circumstance rather than Qur;anic injunctions.

According to Makdisi, the concept of the veil has been over simplified both in its ethnic context and its political or religious significance by Western media. She criticises the preconceived ideas of the veil that is classifying people as modern; versus traditional; on the basis of costume and argues that a woman who wears the veil out of choice is not necessarily submissive or less modern.

In my paper I discuss the reaction of the Saudi feminists to the compulsory wearing of the veil. One way that these feminists who use Islam to empower themselves in Saudi Society demanded more rights in the country, was by wearing a strict modification of the veil. Veiling in this manner (thereby symbolising Islamic piety), becomes a way of achieving their goals. It is worth noting that in Algeria, during the struggle for independence, the veil became synonymous with Algerian patriotism.14

Fatima Mernissi attacks the practice of women;s segregation by the conservatives as the institutionalisation of male authoritarianism achieved by way of manipulating the sacred texts.15 The question is not so much whether the veil is Islamic or not, as it is mentioned in the Qur;an, specifically in reference to the mothers of the believers and has been used by Muslims to distinguish believing women since the time of the Prophet. The relevant question for Muslim feminists today is the element of choice attached to the garment, and whether it is a woman;s right to choose whether to veil or not.

From the outside, the shari'a is seen as an obstacle to progress in women;s rights but a legal system totally based on shari'a might leave substantial room for improvement in those rights because non-shari'a practices, which themselves curtailed women;s rights, would no longer have a firm basis. An urgent issue that has been a practice in Muslim countries but that is not necessarily Islamic is the continuing existence of crimes of honour. This theme occurs frequently in this collection, especially in papers dealing with those legal systems with the highest degree of borrowing from Western systems. Most prominently in Abu-Odeh's analysis of the legal, political and social causes for this aspect of inequality in society, it can be seen that the origins of these laws do not appear to have a direct Islamic base. She examines social perceptions of female behaviour and social obsessions with virginity and honour that have been perpetuated by the law. Likewise, Mokbel Wensley addresses the flaws that allow such crimes to go unpunished, and calls for at least equal punishment for men and women in what should be classed as crimes of passion and not honour.

The concept of honour and modesty has been addressed elsewhere by scholars. Abu Lughod16 has noted the link between honour and stratification showing how this ideology serves to rationalise social inequality legitimising the control that some have over the lives of others. This leads to another dominant issue of concern to feminists world-wide, male dominance in society, patriarchy. Since patriarchalism as a model differs in form from society to society, this book addresses the general Muslim; model of partriarchalism. What is distinctive about Islamic patriarchy and what are its implications for women;s lives and search for power and influence? Karmi focuses directly on patriarchy. She believes the Qur'an confirms and legitimises patriarchal rule and that looking back at the emergence of Islam, it was a time when Arab tribal society was moving towards male dominance. This, she claims, has been exacerbated by biased interpretations of the Qur'an in favour of men's power to the exclusion of women.

As McKee points out, Arab women writers or novelists reproduce and subvert the rigidly patriarchal gender systems of their society. The subversion takes place by exposing political structure and ideology, thus making their heroines politically aware. Afshar;s study of the changes within the Islamic political system in Iran points to the fight of Iranian women against rigid patriarchal structure.

Hamadeh approaches patriarchy on a different level by addressing the manner in which the 'ulama have subverted the original message of the Qur'an and the practice of the Prophet in totalitarian regimes. Men exclusively dominated the legal and political scenes where the majority of women remained silent. The patriarchal system in family law offers justifications for custody. Perhaps can Islamic patriarchy become milder than other models of male dominance, if understood better by women.

Mokbel Wensley states that, in a partly Islamic context, patriarchal concepts remain a cause of inequality despite the Lebanese constitution and irrespective of religious precepts. The ideology of patriarchy is connected with deep rooted ideas of blood especially in aspects of agnation and descent. The organisation of political life in the region takes form around this ideology. Patriarchy as a system is challenged by most of these papers primarily by questioning and often by offering an alternative modes of thought.

The concept of irrationality or emotionality of women as a justification for discrimination in employment, in political and economic participation is universal. Pregnancy, the menstrual cycle and post-natal depression serve as reasons to perpetuate patriarchy. These are used as obstacles against increased access to employment for women. Emotionality has been a key factor in excluding women historically across culture and across religions from the public sphere. In this volume El-Nimr, in her survey of Islamic law, sees the cycle as a justification for the exclusion of women from public life. She sees a logic to the idea that the cycle prescribes to women, a domestic and subservient role. She believes that this is the natural role for women and the roles of the men and women complement each other. Hamadeh shows in contrast that the idea of emotionality has been exploited by male 'ulama in their interpretation of Islamic family law to disqualify the wife from asking for divorce even when the Qur'an appears to entitle her to do so. This is while leaving the full ability to divorce in the hands of the husband. Hamadeh takes issue with the stereotypes and demands a rethinking of women's roles both in family law (custody, divorce etc.) as well as in public roles. Mir-Hosseini deals with this issue of the inequality of women in the legal sphere that is obviously based on the concept of emotionality and its sometimes inadequate tracing back to the sharia.

In most countries in the region, there is a well-defined system of job classifications concerning the suitability to the temperament of the women. Mokbel Wensley points this out in Lebanon and Afshar in Iran. However, the most rigidly defined classification exists in Saudi Arabia where most jobs are not suitable for women and they must remain at home to perform the duties of motherhood. Meanwhile, the debate on emotionality including the perceived physical emotional effects of maternity and womanhood continues to be an impediment to equality world-wide. Women are denied jobs and economic opportunities because of their child bearing role, and national policies maintain by-and-large that the work place and the home are incompatible.17


In the Qur'an, male and female Muslims are equal in faith and dignity: "Oh mankind we have created you of male and female, of nations and tribes so that you may know each other the most honoured in the eyes of God is the most pious amongst you". At the same time, the modes and arenas of their struggle are seen as different, validating for many the exclusion of women from the public sphere, whether in the interpretations of fundamentalists, conservatives or modernists.18 Where does the issue of equality stand in this complex configuration of countries and themes and the apparent imbalance that exists in social, economic and political practice?

Siddiqi concentrates on the idea and practice of equality within Islamic marriage. While women under Hanafi school of law may choose a partner who is equal or superior in status, social restrictions remain in her choice of a husband as well as in her direct participation in the marriage contract. Siddiqi feels that this can be remedied, both by women's participation in the public sphere as well as by their education in the meaning of equality and how to seize it.

Marsot shows the discrepancy, between theory and practice, in the economic power of women in Islam. In order to achieve equality, women themselves took hold of their rights in 18th-century Egypt. Karmi says that there are very obvious areas of inequality inherent in the Qur'an and the only way to deal with them is to be more pragmatic. Finally Hamadeh believes that we have to go back to the original message enshrined in the spirit of Islam, a message of basic equality and gender balance. She suggests we look beyond male oriented Qur'anic exegesis and try to redefine a more balanced perspective that aims at a progressive society.

Azzam identifies areas of inequality in the Qur'an, for example divorce, custody or inheritance, but says that Egyptian Islamist women are doing nothing about these practices partly because they believe in them as the divine word of God and the social circumstances of these women are such that Islam has become more of an answer than a question in relation to these problems.

Mir-Hosseini believes that feminists discourses address basic issues of inequality in Islamic fiqh text and practice with the aim of attaining more equally balanced marital relationships, basic human rights, and personal civil and political rights.

Connors notes areas of inequality in the Qur'an mainly within family law. At the same time, women can achieve equality in areas of employment, economic and political participation. This warrants perhaps an emphasis on a more practical interpretation in those areas of law imprecisely laid out in the traditional shari'a.

Equality of the sexes is asserted in human rights law. "Human rights philosophy regards women as no less individually distinctive, unique and mentally capable than men."19 To affirm this equality was the purpose of the 1979 Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women, passed by the UN General Assembly, but again there were reservations by some countries.

A strong theme that runs through the book is the suggestion that women should be taking a much more prominent role in interpretation of the basic sources of Islam. Likewise, the idea that the role models for modern women must be the Islamic role models from the 7th-century rather than Western role models stands out in many papers.

Makdisi points out that, despite the fact that Western feminism has laid the foundation for accomplishments in women's economic, legal and personal standing, it is criticised for its failure to acknowledge motherhood. Abu-Odeh offers specific advice to Arab feminists in dealing with the crimes of honour and these can only be solutions to a local problem.

Iranian women feminists also appear to reject the Western feminist role models. Mir-Hosseini's defining of the feminist movement in Iran describes it as opposed to Western values and lifestyles. Given the present political situation in Iran, solutions to the problems of Iranian women cannot be in Western language and must be in an indigenous, more legitimate, form. Afshar is even stronger in her emphasis on Islamic feminism in Iran. Muslim women must rely on their sisters in Islam and, in particular, on the mothers of the believers.

The beginning of an indigenous women's movement in predominantly Muslim countries is clearly outlined in the book. It can be seen against the context of the democratic deficit in the political systems of those states, as well as the specific gender-based inequality. Many of the rights that women seek are the rights of citizens that are equally denied to men. Unless there is freedom of expression, less censorship, freedom of association and less intolerance of differences in opinion, there will be no effective women's movement. The allowing of a religious heterogeneous society to exist is more liberating even if a society is not conventionally democratic. The more the tolerance the more the liberty. The Prophet is reported to have said, "the best thing about my people is their differences."

Makdisi clearly explains that women must be allowed to participate more fully in the democratic process of their countries. Barriers between classes, religions and genders must be broken down. McKee points out the awareness of Arab women;s writers to the political realities surrounding them. Abu-Odeh traces the cause for crimes of honour partly to the political structure. The judges tend to pass these crimes by justifications of laws connected with post-independence political systems.

Azzam relates Islam to the political circumstances in Egypt. With reference to how the reassessment of the political situation has led to the return to Orthodox Islam. Mir-Hosseini analyses another dimension of this phenomenon where Islam is in power. Thus, the regime must account for contradictions only in Islamic terms. This allows for legal manoeuvres by women for the first time. Afshar's argument is that it is perhaps only because of the type of government in place that women in Iran have achieved specific rights otherwise outside the reach of reform. Hamadeh condemns totalitarian regimes in their silencing of people especially of women in the public sphere.

For the debate on women's rights to succeed, reforms must be encouraged. Liberals and democrats must be included in the systems, and more periodicals on women must be freely published.20

The papers show that historically, women have been able to advance their cause most when central governments have been weakened in times of wars or other disorders. Chaos creates a certain degree of opportunity for women enabling them to take initiative. Wars have had liberating effects on women. In Iraq, during the first and second Gulf Wars, a remarkable number of women were drafted into the workforce, in factories, fields and government offices to replace men who were sent to the front. The war with Iran in 1980, gave a drastic impetus to the integration of women in the modern sector because of the loss of male labour. By the second year of the war, there was a noticeable increase of women in government ministries. By the third year, more than a million women were employed in unskilled work in the public and private sectors.21 The war of independence in Algeria has been known to have a liberating effect on women. In Egypt, during the militant national independence struggle in 19191922, women played a very visible role.22

Marsot notes how women acquired more economic and legal rights under the decentralised political structure during the Mamluk period of the 18th-century in Egypt as opposed to the time of the centralised government rule of Muhammad 'Ali during the 19th-century. More recently, during the Civil war in Lebanon 1975, Jean Makdisi shows that women acquired a more influential position in Lebanese society. In Saudi Arabia, the only forthright attempt at reforms by women occurred during the Gulf War in 1990. Women seized the opportunity, at the time of chaos, to gain rights to drive their cars. The grip of the system relaxes during war. Government agencies such as the Religious Committee (mutawi'in) were directed towards the crisis, which allowed a breathing space for minorities including women. During the revolution, women fought for their own rights, achieving what they did through their knowledge of Islam.

The debate as to whether the position of women actually improves in situations of political chaos is not a simple equation between the type of regime, the religious power in place, and more importantly the economic circumstances. As long as the legal framework is not dissolved, though the order of things is a shaken up, women frequently benefit. However, under severe economic recession or a total breakdown of the system, women often become victims as seen in Bosnia and Rwanda. Women as seen in this volume and elsewhere, react or take initiative at times of chaos in the political system, because of their desire to participate at the national process and because it is easier to demand rights during periods of change. Although this is often followed by a set-back, such as in Iran at the outset of the clerical rule, or in Saudi Arabia after the driving demonstration by women, women gain in the long-term an awareness and political consciousness which will not be easily lost.


This awareness and the demand for rights in an Islamic context was a unifying theme at the fourth world conference on women by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Conference held in September 1995. All Muslim states were represented at the conference (except for Saudi Arabia) and displayed the cultural diversity prevalent in the Islamic world. The majority of Muslim women representatives of their respective countries, leaders, politicians, lawyers, journalists and academics expressed their belief that Islam is a great unifying force and has the scope to allow for greater human rights and dignity to women.

The Algerian representative, Hania Semichi, called for religious tolerance within the framework of Islam. The Kuwaiti woman representative, Su'ad Al-Sabah, included the demand for the right to vote and an appeal to government to eliminate discrimination. She also stated the need for a goal of equality, changes in the legislation and a developmental goal including increased economic and political opportunities for women. The Pakistani premier, Benazir Bhutto, pointed out that there is a crisis of silence engulfing the Muslim world and she stressed the potential of economic freedom and independence offered to women by an Islamic structure. She added that women should get their liberation from a correct form of Islam, their objectives starting with the fight against illiteracy and general poverty in that part of the world. The Egyptian representative, Suzanne Mubarak, stressed the importance of democracy as the ideal environment for freedom and for the prosperity of movements of emancipation and liberation within the context of sound religious values.

The conference was attended by women who expressed traditionalist Islamic views that opposed and criticised practices such as abortion and the moral deterioration of the family. Although other countries sent eloquent Muslim women as representatives, some chose to send men such as Morocco, Oman and Qatar. There is no lack of intelligent, learned and powerful Muslim women in our days but more space needs to be created in order for their voices to be heard in an Islamic context. The present book should be seen as another scholarly voice in the increasingly crucial debate of gender equality in the world.

  1. L. Bouder, 'A Lawyer's Primer on Feminist Theory and Tort', in Kelly Weiseberg (ed.), Feminists Legal Theory Foundations (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993).
  2. As put forward recently by Margot Badran, Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
  3. See also for the historical approach Leila Ahmad, Women and Gender and Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) and by Fatima Mernissi, Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).
  4. Ziba Mir Hosseini, Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law (London: I.B. Tauris, 1993), p. 15.
  5. See Haleh Afshar (ed.), Women in the Middle East : Perceptions, Realities, and Struggles for Liberation (Macmillan Series, 1993).
  6. Barbara Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an, Traditions and Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
  7. M. Amin, The Waqfs and Social Life in Egypt 648-923 AH / 1250–1517 AD [In Arabic] (Cairo: Dar al Nahda al-Arabiyya, 1980).
  8. Muhammed 'Ali brought Al-Azhar, under his control breaking its independence and limiting its jurisdictions. See Badran, Feminists, Islam and Nation.
  9. See R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, (London: Black, 1903). Also see Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, M. B. Vizedon, and G.L. Caffe trans. (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1960).
  10. An analysis of patriarchy or expressions of male power or dominance in society marked the beginning of feminist consciousness in other societies, for example 19th century Egypt, see Badran, Feminists, Islam, and Nation, p.3, Deniz Kandioti, 'Islam and Patriarchy', in Nikkie Keddie & Beth Baron (eds.), Women in Middle Eastern History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).
  11. See Denise A. Spellberg, 'Political Action and Public Example: 'A'isha and the Battle of the Camel', in Nikkie Keddie & Beth Baron (eds.), Women in Middle Eastern History . Also see Fatima Mernissi, Women and Islam: A Historical and Theological Enquiry (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991).
  12. The phenomenon of men who adopt the task of defending women's rights is seen elsewhere in Muslim countries for example Amin and Fahmi in Egypt. See Badran, Feminists, Islam and Nation. Shahrur and Abu Shaqqa as discussed in Munira Fakhro's paper in this volume.
  13. See Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender and Islam, Princeton University Press, 1991.
  14. Nora Benallegue, 'Algerian Women in the Struggle for Independence and Reconstruction', Social Science Journal, 35, No. 4 (1983), 703–17.
  15. Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elites: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam , Mary Jo Lakeland trans. (Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1991).
  16. L. Abu Lughod, Veiled Sentiments, Honour and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
  17. Lucinda Finley discusses this in her article 'Transcending Equality Theory: A Way Out of the Maternity and the Work Place Debate', Feminist Legal Theory (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 190.
  18. Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an: Traditions and Interpretations.
  19. Geoffrey Best, 'Justice, International Relations and Human Rights' Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 4 (October 1995), p. 790.
  20. Tahire Kocturk in A Matter of Honour: Experiences of Turkish Women Immigrants (London, Zed Books, 1992), describes the emergence of a Turkish feminist gazette during the beginning of the century. See also Zanan as referred to in this volume.
  21. See Nadia Hijab, Woman Power: The Arab Debate on Women at Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
  22. See Badran, Feminists, Islam and Nation. Also, Afaf Lutfi Marsot in this volume.