“This makes me want to shed light on those obscure zones of resistance, those entrenched attitudes, in order to understand the symbolic—even explosive—significance of that act which elsewhere in the world is an ordinary event: a woman’s vote.” — Fatima Mernissi, Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry
Women’s lives—our realities, needs, roles, and status within society—have changed over time. Our understandings of justice and injustice too have changed. It stands to reason that the family laws, practices, and policies that govern our lives in the 21st century must also evolve to reflect those changes in a trajectory of Islamic values of equality and justice.
Yet, in many Muslim contexts, patriarchal and conservative understandings of Islam used by those in authority have preserved discriminatory legal frameworks that govern family life and remained resistant to demands for law reform. Many countries with Muslim populations have signed international human rights treaties like the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which obliges States to actively ensure equality in family laws—but some countries also use Islam to justify their non-compliance to allow discrimination against women because they say those are God’s law. This is simply not true.
Over the past decades, scholarship and activism have made the case for the necessity and possibility of reform. There is a rich diversity of interpretations and juristic opinions within Muslim legal tradition that is echoed in the diversity of Muslim family laws around the world—no two countries are exactly the same. This diversity allows for legal flexibility that enables reform to take place, as it already has in many countries around the world to ensure equality and justice in the Muslim family. These arguments for reform, from Islamic teachings, international human rights standards, constitutional guarantees of equality, as well as evidence from our own lived realities, gives us a multitude of tools to push for reforming law, public policy and practice towards equality and justice in the Muslim family.
This policy brief series starts with an outline of 10 fundamental arguments to make the case for the reform of Muslim family laws, especially since resistance to reform is based on religious justifications. Subsequent briefs delve deeper into specific topics for reform efforts, available in ENGLISH and ARABIC.
Musawah is tracking positive developments in Muslim family laws globally. Each country table contains an overview of legislative frameworks, available case law, policies, procedures and practices in the 12 principal areas of concern relating to Muslim family laws.
Musawah has worked with national advocates for law reform in Muslim-context countries to submit reports and to engage with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee.
This legal review provides a comprehensive legal review of Muslim family laws across Commonwealth Asia and Africa, analysing the nature and extent to which they discriminate against Muslim women and girls.