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Both Muslims and non-Muslims see women in most Muslim countries as suffering from social, economic, and political discrimination, treated by law and society as second-class citizens subject to male authority. This discrimination is attributed to Islam and Islamic law, and since the late 19th century there has been a mass of literature tackling this issue. Recently, exciti Both Muslims and non-Muslims see women in most Muslim countries as suffering from social, economic, and political discrimination, treated by law and society as second-class citizens subject to male authority. This discrimination is attributed to Islam and Islamic law, and since the late 19th century there has been a mass of literature tackling this issue. Recently, exciting new feminist research has been challenging gender discrimination and male authority from within Islamic legal tradition: this book presents some important results from that research. The contributors all engage critically with two central juristic concepts; rooted in the Qur’an, they lie at the basis of this discrimination. One refers to a husband’s authority over his wife, his financial responsibility toward her, and his superior status and rights. The other is male family members’ right and duty of guardianship over female members (e.g., fathers over daughters when entering into marriage contracts) and the privileging of fathers over mothers in guardianship rights over their children. The contributors, brought together by the Musawah global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, include Omaima Abou-Bakr, Asma Lamrabet, Ayesha Chaudhry, Sa‘diyya Shaikh, Lynn Welchman, Marwa Sharefeldin, Lena Larsen and Amina Wadud.


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Both Muslims and non-Muslims see women in most Muslim countries as suffering from social, economic, and political discrimination, treated by law and society as second-class citizens subject to male authority. This discrimination is attributed to Islam and Islamic law, and since the late 19th century there has been a mass of literature tackling this issue. Recently, exciti Both Muslims and non-Muslims see women in most Muslim countries as suffering from social, economic, and political discrimination, treated by law and society as second-class citizens subject to male authority. This discrimination is attributed to Islam and Islamic law, and since the late 19th century there has been a mass of literature tackling this issue. Recently, exciting new feminist research has been challenging gender discrimination and male authority from within Islamic legal tradition: this book presents some important results from that research. The contributors all engage critically with two central juristic concepts; rooted in the Qur’an, they lie at the basis of this discrimination. One refers to a husband’s authority over his wife, his financial responsibility toward her, and his superior status and rights. The other is male family members’ right and duty of guardianship over female members (e.g., fathers over daughters when entering into marriage contracts) and the privileging of fathers over mothers in guardianship rights over their children. The contributors, brought together by the Musawah global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, include Omaima Abou-Bakr, Asma Lamrabet, Ayesha Chaudhry, Sa‘diyya Shaikh, Lynn Welchman, Marwa Sharefeldin, Lena Larsen and Amina Wadud.

30 review for Men in Charge?: Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lyana Khairuddin

    To be honest, I have personally been waiting all my life for this book without knowing it. As a Muslim girl and now woman in Malaysia, the clash of submitting to the patriarchal leanings & teachings of the religion versus the feminist fight to be recognised as equal to men in society is as real as it gets. It was suffocating for me having to always make the hard choice between one and the other all my life, when all I want and desire is the fact to acknowledge that I am a Muslim, I am a Malaysia To be honest, I have personally been waiting all my life for this book without knowing it. As a Muslim girl and now woman in Malaysia, the clash of submitting to the patriarchal leanings & teachings of the religion versus the feminist fight to be recognised as equal to men in society is as real as it gets. It was suffocating for me having to always make the hard choice between one and the other all my life, when all I want and desire is the fact to acknowledge that I am a Muslim, I am a Malaysian, and I am a feminist. All of that, without having to choose one or the other. This book is not an easy, downtime read. It requires one to question one's own understanding of Islam based on one's previous reading, religious education and living the life according to what one perceive as the religion. One cannot read this book having prejudice, nor can one read this book only seeking to criticise. This book can be seen as an academic text, and one I would suggest to be taught & discussed in gender and Islamic studies courses, not necessarily one or the other separately. The discourse however is restricted to Quran 4:34, on the concept of qiwamah and wilayah. These two words can be interpreted in many forms: hermeneutically, linguistically, literally. I daresay, this book covers all the discourse surrounding these two words; and the concept that has taken form in the livelihood of Muslims from the focus on this particular ayat (sentence) in the Quran. By focusing on discussing only qiwamah and wilayah, this book was able to focus on the discourse of patriarchy in Islam and the need for a new egalitarian reading of the Quran. Works by the authors were conducted academically and reported as the different chapters in the book. Each chapter "attacks" the discussion through varied lens, however, by putting all the works together and arranging the discourse as it had in the book; Men in Charge? was able to come close to a holistic discussion on gender in Islam. However, I worry that the works cited are too academic for most laypeople. Further, the discussion is female heavy. I understand the limitations and the struggle of Muslim feminists, for I am one myself, however, there is a need for men to also come forward with what they interpret from 4:34. Do Muslim men really believe on the need to protect women? Do they put their gender as the main factor to be caliphs? Or can they see the need for equality and feminism? I look forward to discussing this book with many people from varied background and ideologies, and I also look forward to the publication of the Life Stories. A must read for Muslim women.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Najla Hammad

    مقالات متعددة لمجموعة من الباحثات تدور حول القوامة بشكل أساسي بداية من التراث الفقهي لها وعن تدرج حال المرأة في الإسلام من خلال هذا التراث، وقراءات مختلفة لمفاهيم الولاية والقوامة في الإسلام، ومحاولة لطرح قراءة مختلفة لكن صوفية عن "الجندر" بالاستعانة بفكر ابن عربي، والفتاوي الحديثة في فقه الأقليّات زي فتاوى سيد الدرش و"فتاوي معاصرة" للقرضاوي وتنتهي بقصص مختلفة لنساء مسلمات حول العالم تدور حول الظلم الذي يعانينه بسبب القوامة والولاية مقالات متعددة لمجموعة من الباحثات تدور حول القوامة بشكل أساسي بداية من التراث الفقهي لها وعن تدرج حال المرأة في الإسلام من خلال هذا التراث، وقراءات مختلفة لمفاهيم الولاية والقوامة في الإسلام، ومحاولة لطرح قراءة مختلفة لكن صوفية عن "الجندر" بالاستعانة بفكر ابن عربي، والفتاوي الحديثة في فقه الأقليّات زي فتاوى سيد الدرش و"فتاوي معاصرة" للقرضاوي وتنتهي بقصص مختلفة لنساء مسلمات حول العالم تدور حول الظلم الذي يعانينه بسبب القوامة والولاية

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    This book presents a persuasive set of essays by researchers and leaders of the Musawah Global Movement for Equality in Muslim Family Laws. I'm especially impressed by the work of Ziba Mir-Hosseini, who is a force for thoughtful, compassionate, just interpretations of Islamic teaching. Her research and collaboration with other progressive Muslims around the world is enabling real change in law and society. These efforts resemble those of female Christian leaders over the past century or so, who This book presents a persuasive set of essays by researchers and leaders of the Musawah Global Movement for Equality in Muslim Family Laws. I'm especially impressed by the work of Ziba Mir-Hosseini, who is a force for thoughtful, compassionate, just interpretations of Islamic teaching. Her research and collaboration with other progressive Muslims around the world is enabling real change in law and society. These efforts resemble those of female Christian leaders over the past century or so, who have helped to transform popular Christianity from an authoritarian, patriarchal tradition, into one that upholds partnership and equality in both the family and society.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sajal

    I think I've come to a point where reading books such as these no longer changes my life. Trust me, that used to happen a few years ago when I first discovered feminist Muslim scholars and I felt understood; as if everything made sense. The "this-changed-my-life" feeling may be gone, but this doesn't mean that I can't appreciate what this particular book has to offer. We know that the Quran is open to interpretation through a sociohistorical linguistic system. This book just happens to challenge I think I've come to a point where reading books such as these no longer changes my life. Trust me, that used to happen a few years ago when I first discovered feminist Muslim scholars and I felt understood; as if everything made sense. The "this-changed-my-life" feeling may be gone, but this doesn't mean that I can't appreciate what this particular book has to offer. We know that the Quran is open to interpretation through a sociohistorical linguistic system. This book just happens to challenge the traditional (read: patriarchal) interpretation of verse 4:34 - the one that supposedly "justifies" male authority over women - in legal traditions and family laws.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    In 2015, Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, published Men In Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (Oneworld 2015). The book is a product of a five-year Musawah Knowledge Building initiative that sought to critically engage with and re-think the two central juristic concepts of qiwamah and wilayah. The book tackles the question of how these legal postulates came to be and how the construction of male authority within Islamic legal tradition In 2015, Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, published Men In Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (Oneworld 2015). The book is a product of a five-year Musawah Knowledge Building initiative that sought to critically engage with and re-think the two central juristic concepts of qiwamah and wilayah. The book tackles the question of how these legal postulates came to be and how the construction of male authority within Islamic legal tradition by classical jurists has stubbornly persisted till today. There are also suggested approaches to seeking egalitarian interpretations of these concepts, accounts of how women around the world experience them in their daily lives, how muftis engage with the changing reality of contemporary spousal relations, as well as the challenges faced by NGOs when attempting to suggest new ways of understanding these postulates in contemporary family law. The essays are thus interdisciplinary and provide a wide range of approaches to understanding qiwamah and wilayah, whether it’s from a legal, theological, historical or sociological lens. In the Muslim legal tradition, qiwamah and wilayah generally provide legal and religious legitimacy to the supposed authority of men over women, effectively institutionalising gender inequality and upholding the patriarchal family as not only the ideal, but the only acceptable model of the family. To summarize briefly, qiwamah, a term that does not appear in the Qur’an but is derived from the word qawwamun (translated as ‘protectors and maintainers’) has been generally taken to denote the husband’s authority over his wife and financial responsibility towards the family. This postulate has been called the “DNA of patriarchy” by Musawah Advocates Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Zainah Anwar as it affects all areas of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) relating to gender rights, especially when it comes to laws regulating marriage. The second term, wilayah, does appear in the Qur’an and though it is not once used to sanction the authority of men over women, it has been taken to refer to the guardianship male family members possess over female family members. Even for those unfamiliar with these concepts and their effects on fiqh, the book does a thorough job of introducing these terms, how they were derived, subsequently codified into law and why patriarchal interpretations have prevailed over more egalitarian ones. The introductory essay “Muslim Legal Tradition and the Challenge of Gender Equality” by co-editor Ziba Mir-Hosseini provides an excellent primer of the historical context that surrounded these juristic concepts. Hosseini details the problems in the Muslim legal tradition and the tensions that arose when the understanding, validity or interpretations of these concepts were contested in a climate of modern demands for more equal gender relations. These two postulates and their codification then are not simply understood through the theological lens but with the added awareness that they were susceptible to and shaped by socio-historical pressures. It is clear from the introductory chapter that a holistic approach is needed if we wish to intelligently problematise these two juristic concepts. In a particularly incisive prognosis, Hosseini suggests that 
 “The problem is not with the text but with context and the ways in which the text is used to sustain patriarchal and authoritarian structures. The strategy must be not just logical argument and informed reinterpretations from within the tradition; there must also be challenges on the political front.” The two subsequent chapters, “The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct” by Omaina Abou-Bakr and “An Egalitarian Reading of the Concepts of Kilafah, Wilayah and Qiwamah” by Asma Lamrabet, further provides a thorough understanding of these concepts for the reader. In the former essay, Omaina Abou-Bakr traces how a mere descriptive word, qawammun, had evolved to become the patriarchal construct of qiwamah and how this term came to be conceptualized and re-conceptualized by medieval theologians and then modern Islamic thinkers who each coloured it with their conceptions of gender difference, essentialism and hierarchy. Lamrabet would then follow up to detail how current interpretations of khilafah, wilayah and qiwamah that uphold patriachal notions of gender relations are in fact un-Qur’anic. By referring to injunctions in the Qur’an and directly analysing the semantics of these terms in relation to the Qur’an, that is, to interpret and understand these terms as they were to be understood, Lambaret uncovers how a reformation of these terms is not only possible, but Qur’anically valid: “To reduce wilayah to male guardianship over dependent wards or qiwamah to an assumed authority of the husband amounts of violating the spiritual principles of the Qur’anic message regarding the ethics of marriage and family life. We must not forget that the meaning of Qur’anic concepts will evolve over time, especially since the Qur’an never set out to determine specific social roles for men and women.” By now, these central juristic concepts have been adequately demystified. They are not immutable divine laws were subject to the whims of socio-historical contexts and human prejudice. Further suggestions on approaches to reforming these juristic concepts include considering prophetic reports as a source that can help point one to a more egalitarian framework (Ayesha S. Chaudry) as well as utilising Sufi discourses and perspectives since Sufisms’s stress on the complete equality of all humans, regardless of gender, before God and its distaste for egotism and the exercise of personal and social superiority provides provides ample opportunity to critique gender discrimination from within the tradition (Sa’diyya Shaikh). Subsequent chapters then provides real-life accounts and observations of how these concepts work in reality, whether through activists who have studied how the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah and the challenges NGO face when attempting to enact proposed reforms or the challenges faced by muftis who have to grapple with outdated interpretations of these concepts in a world of shifting gender relations. These accounts takes the reader away from understanding these juristic concepts theoretically and semantically, to actually understanding how they function as legal postulates that govern personal lives in our time and how they interact with international human rights law or human rights norms. The suggestions made then at this point are not about re-interpretations of the terms but about how NGOs can refine their approaches in proposing legal reforms. Towards the last two chapters we then come to read of personal accounts of women. Lena Larsen details presents in her chapter the personal accounts of women from all over the world through the Global Life Stories project which documented and analysed personal accounts of fifty-eight Muslim women from 10 different countries and how they experienced qiwamah and wilayah in their daily lives. It is through the study of these personal accounts that one could truly see that the patriarchal understanding of these concepts do not stand in contemporary reality. For example, males are no longer necessarily the main providers of the family, females often take on economic roles in the family and polygomous marriages are evidently likely to put women “at risk of economic marginalization, spousal abandonment, lack of support for their children and lack of emotional fulfilment.” Perhaps a chapter that best provides a microcosm of what the journey to seeking a more egalitarian formulation of laws is the concluding chapter by Amina Wadud. She begins by sharing her personal and intellectual journey in grappling with the issue of male authority as articulated in dominant interpretations of the Qur’anic verse 4:34. She then continues to talk about the polarized perspectives she noticed women themselves had with regards to Islam and patriarchy. These personal experiences then would go on to shape her development of a new principle based on Tawhid (monotheism or the unicity of Allah). Often it is the personal that would go on to drive the way people would proceed to function in society, or the way they would choose to approach things like the reformation of laws. Paying attention to the personal and the real is what can bring about the most effective ways of diagnosing problems and coming up with precise solutions. That the book concludes with personal accounts is probably no small matter. After all, the personal is political. Men In Charge? is a valuable contribution to the production of knowledge centred around family law and preciously includes the lived experiences of women. It demystifies the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah and aids in the push for reforming laws to reflect a more equal relationship between married partners and de-institutionalising gender inequality. Though critical feminist and other social-scientific methodologies were used, the approach that Musawah chose was still markedly rooted in the Islamic tradition. While these two approaches are not necessarily at odds, there has been a tension between the two discourses that activists continue to grapple with. Understanding that merely a human-rights based approach will not suffice without also integrating those who wish to work within the tradition is what makes Musawah’s method of knowledge production particularly effective. The book itself is a testament to the holistic approach they have chosen to take, starting with a more theoretical understanding of the two concepts, how these concepts function legally and socially in reality and ending with understanding them through personal accounts and lived realities. (First published in Karyawan, a publication by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), Volume 11, Issue 2, June 2016.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lambda Moses

    This book is informative of how the concepts of qiwama and wilaya, the DNA of patriarchy in Islamic law, developed, were challenged, reinterpreted, how they harmed women because the ideals behind the concepts do not match lived realities. My favorite chapters are The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct, Islamic Law Sufism and Gender, Understanding Qiwamah and Wilayah through Life Stories, and The Ethics of Tawhid over the Ethics of Qiwamah. I think this book effectively pro This book is informative of how the concepts of qiwama and wilaya, the DNA of patriarchy in Islamic law, developed, were challenged, reinterpreted, how they harmed women because the ideals behind the concepts do not match lived realities. My favorite chapters are The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct, Islamic Law Sufism and Gender, Understanding Qiwamah and Wilayah through Life Stories, and The Ethics of Tawhid over the Ethics of Qiwamah. I think this book effectively problematized the traditional concepts of qiwama and wilaya. It seems that major obstacles to reform include education (some women still did not question the traditional notions even if they suffered from them), beliefs in gender essentialism, reluctance to break with tradition (or at least perceived tradition), and related to that, identity politics in the wake of colonialism. Regarding identity politics, I do think counterarguments to traditional positions may not be enough; we need to dismantle colonialism, Western imperialism, and Islamophobia, as well, which led to this problem of identity politics in the first place. But for there to be tawhid, all domination must be dismantled.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Indah

    "Islam is what made me believe in women's right" - Nahla. As someone who get drilled with an absolute truth in her younger days, to found out truth is subjective enlightening me a lot. A religious feminist ever said, if you want to look at Al Quran with gender equality in mind..you will find it. In the end, what matter is your own view to analyze it. This book bring such knowledge on me. We are all human being is a khilafah regardless our gender. By reading this book also, i know truth shouldn't "Islam is what made me believe in women's right" - Nahla. As someone who get drilled with an absolute truth in her younger days, to found out truth is subjective enlightening me a lot. A religious feminist ever said, if you want to look at Al Quran with gender equality in mind..you will find it. In the end, what matter is your own view to analyze it. This book bring such knowledge on me. We are all human being is a khilafah regardless our gender. By reading this book also, i know truth shouldn't be blindly believed. There's context in it. To believe is to know the answer of 5W+1H and truly its liberating.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rizwan

    It took me a long time to read this, purely because the spurious argumentation throughout but it ultimately proved fruitful as a means through which to define my own arguments and counter reasoning on this topic by consideration of the Quranic verses.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Taqbir Huda

  10. 4 out of 5

    rai ☽

  11. 5 out of 5

    Yasmine EL Sherbiny

  12. 5 out of 5

    Luciana Fadon

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

  14. 5 out of 5

    هند العنزي

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hadi

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hiba

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nina

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amine Benkirane

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mahad Olad

  20. 5 out of 5

    Aziza Mehmoudzai

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amira

  22. 5 out of 5

    Meghana

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zaynab

  25. 5 out of 5

    Louise

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steph

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gerhard Hirmer

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zahra Khan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hanan Al Shargi

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