Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition By Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki Al-Sharmani, and Jana Rumminger, eds. (London: Oneworld Publications, 2014. 286 pages.)

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Shehnaz Haqqani



At a time when men’s assumption of leadership roles through all-male events
and publications is a popular phenomenon, Men in Charge?, a byproduct of
a project by the women-led organization Musawah, could not have been published
at a more opportune moment. Comprising a foreword by Zainah Anwar,
Musawah’s director, an introduction by the editors, and ten chapters from academics
and activists of varied backgrounds, the book historicizes and problematizes
the Islamic idea of qiwāmah (authority) and wilāyah (guardianship),
among other legal patriarchal precepts. It successfully argues that the Islamic
legal tradition with regards to gender roles rests on the false notion of male
Men in Charge? carries immeasurable value for scholars and students
of Islam, religion, women’s and gender studies, activists working toward gender-
egalitarianism, and (Muslim) feminists seeking empowerment within a
religious framework. It also speaks to reform leaders and lawmakers in Muslim
states, who might better understand the fundamental assumptions upon
which family laws operate and their disconnect from the reality that women
and families face. The book’s major success lies in covering several important
layers of the myth of male authority, from the theoretical gaps in the notions
of qiwāmah, wilāyah, and istikhlāf to a practical examination of the impact of
these legal principles and proposals for new and creative approaches for feminists
to apply in their vision of a gender-egalitarian Islam.
Men in Charge? can be divided into two sections: (1) a theoretical discussion
of the problems raised through fiqh rulings on gender and proposes
new ways through which Muslim feminists can approach those problems and
(2) an analysis of the established ideals’ practical impacts. Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s
discussion in the first chapter, “Muslim Legal Tradition and the Challenge
of Gender Equality,” effectively contextualizes the book’s broader
discussion: What Muslim scholars did in the early twentieth century to challenge
the legal tradition’s normative thought in an effort to move toward
more democratic and egalitarian family systems.
According to the ideas of the scholars from the past and those from the
more modern period, there appears to be an inconsistency between the two
groups’ understanding of “woman.” This suggests that the idea of woman is ...

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