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In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, some advocated a turn toward “tradition,”
thereby raising fears that women would be pushed out of the public arena despite
their active participation and would even lose those gains made under
previous governments. The debates around gender parity vs. complementarity
that were stirred up were not new, but they did manage to acquire new cogency
in the context of the emotionally charged deconstruction of the old political
system and the subsequent transition to new governments.
The arguments made by both sides were often couched within a framework
of liberal human rights or in terms of Islamic tradition. Gender and
Equality in Muslim Family Law is a valuable contribution to the discussion
on the apparent contradiction between these discourses and a learned attempt
to bridge them. The editors of this collective book, which stems from a number
of workshops organized by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief,
explore how gender equality, as shaped by contemporary ideas of human
rights, can be reconciled with the Islamic legal tradition, which is rooted in
pre-modern conceptions of justice.
In the first chapter, Mir-Hosseini examines the classical fiqhī understanding
of gender justice by focusing on qiwāmah (guardianship of women), which
is enshrined in most Muslim family codes, and overviews twentieth-century
reforms and codifications. She also discusses the ideas of al-Tahir al-Haddad
(d. 1935) and Fazlur Rahman (d. 1988), two reformists who influenced subsequent
discourses on equality in the family within an Islamic framework.
Her contribution ends with a looks at the emergence of political Islam, transnational
feminism, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), all of which
add a new dimension to preexisting debates.
The rest of the book is divided into two sections. The first explores some
concrete efforts at legal reform and social activism that reconcile Islam and
human rights. Mulki al-Sharmani delves into the concept of qiwāmah in
Egyptian law and in courtroom practice, pointing out the legal strategies
pursued by litigants and the disconnect between the model of marriage upheld
by family codes and the actual practice of marriage. Marwa Sharafedin
analyzes Egyptian women’s rights NGOs and their discourse on personal
status law that blend, to varying degrees, religious and human rights frames ...