Knowledge Building Research Initiative: Building Egalitarian Ethics and Jurisprudence of Muslim Marriages

Musawah has undertaken a new multi-year research initiative titled ‘Building Egalitarian Ethics and Jurisprudence of Muslim Marriages’

Stay tuned as we add more updates in the coming months!

The teams of authors are working with Musawah's Knowledge Building Working Group on developing the background papers—on ethics, Qur’anic hermeneutics, Sunnah (Prophetic practice), Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and contemporary family laws and practices—through ongoing meetings and participatory research.

In 2019, Musawah started a new multi-year research initiative titled ‘Building Egalitarian Ethics and Jurisprudence of Muslim Marriages’. The new initiative builds on Musawah’s previous research project, which traced the genealogy of gender inequality in Muslim legal tradition, focusing on the juristic principles qiwamah and wilayah as the roots of this inequality.

Through this new initiative, Musawah aims to help build an understanding of marriage as a partnership of equals in a way that is rooted within Muslim legal tradition. Musawah will produce and disseminate multidisciplinary knowledge that:

  1. Reclaims and promotes the egalitarian ethics of Islam’s textual sources and explores how this ethics can be reflected in the jurisprudence of marriage and family relations;
  2. Shifts the dominant conception of Muslim marriage from a contract of exchange that requires a woman’s obedience in exchange for a man’s protection and maintenance, to that of a mutual partnership between two equals;
  3. Empowers groups and individuals to use the new knowledge in multidimensional efforts towards Muslim family laws and practices that reflect equality and justice.

Why do we need to build new ethics and legal jurisprudence of Muslim marriages, and how is this relevant to your work in your different contexts?


  • Our contemporary laws and practices related to marriage (and thus family relations) are not in line with contemporary ethics of justice. These laws and practices are informed by concepts inherited from classical jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics of another time and context where justice did not include the notion of gender equality. This is the conclusion reached by our previous project on qiwamah, the new project aims to provide alternatives, what can we build? Equally important is that these laws and the religious arguments that justify them contravene with the primary ethical principles and teachings of the Qur’an, and conceal other possible egalitarian Islamic visions of egalitarian gender relations within the family.
  • There are ways and reasons for approaching the subject of marriage and gender relations within an Islamic tradition and from an egalitarian perspective. The ethical worldview and message in the Qur’an affirm the equal worth of all humans, and calls for social relations (including gender relations) that reflect core Qur’anic ethical principles such as justice (‘adl), beneficence (ihsan), doing what is commonly known to be good (ma‘ruf). The enactment of these ethical values is the religious duty of every believer. The question that we aim to explore in the new project is how we can systematically map out that Quranic ethical worldview its central values and enact them in jurisprudence?
  • We live in a world in which there is a plurality of ‘ethical frameworks’ ‘norms’ or ‘laws’ through which contemporary social relations – in this case Muslim gender relations and rights in the family domain – are regulated, negotiated, and transformed. That is why legal pluralism is important, there is not only one norm, there are Qur’anic norms, social norms, human rights norms, and this new project is about how can we bring these different ethical frameworks in harmony.

In November 2018, Musawah organised a Knowledge Building workshop in partnership with the Faculty of Theology at the University of Helsinki, the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto, and the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The workshop was preceded by a public seminar at the University of Helsinki.

In June 2019, Musawah organised a two-day conceptual workshop in Kuala Lumpur to bring together Musawah scholars and activists to collaboratively discuss topics related to marriage, Qur’anic ethics and Muslim legal tradition (usul al fiqh, ahadith and Sunnah) as they relate to laws, policies and lived experiences in Muslim contexts.

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