Dr Mulki Al-Sharmani

Mulki Al-Sharmani*



In this paper, I reflect on how two groups of contemporary Muslim women grapple with the relationship between the ethical and the legal in constructions of Muslim marriage and spousal roles in Islamic interpretive tradition. I understand Islamic interpretive tradition to have multiple interrelated layers: classical Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and exegesis of Qur’an (tafsir), modern fiqh and tafsir; codified modern family laws in Muslim majority countries; and un-codified juristic injunctions that govern marriage and family life among Muslim minorities in the West. I am not arguing that these textual layers are the same and hence collapsible to a singular entity. But I contend that despite significant differences among them, there is a particular construction of marriage and spousal duties and rights that is recognizable in all of them.

The two groups of women are: selected Muslim women scholars from Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Africa  who have been for the past three decades conducting hermeneutical studies on the Qur’an and the interpretive tradition to: 1) engage critically with interpretive religious knowledge that justifies patriarchy and gender inequality, 2) produce new interpretive knowledge on gender that is grounded in the Qur’an’s guiding ethical principles, and 3) partake in a discussion about how we ‘read’ the interpretive tradition. The starting point for these scholars is a faith-based position: they believe in the normative role of their religious tradition; they have great deference for the interpretive tradition and do not want to do away with it, but are critically engaging with it seeking answers to ethical and hermeneutical challenges from within. And while the question of ethics and Islamic law in relation to gender has been taken up by other contemporary Muslim (male) scholars such as Khaled Abou Fadl, among others, what distinguishes these women scholars is that their cumulative scholarship is building a comprehensive approach toward the gender question in Islamic interpretive tradition within the framework of Quranic ethics. In addition, some of these scholars are also systematically working together to build a knowledge movement[1] and are linking their scholarship with advocacy efforts in national, regional, and global contexts, reaching out to different actors such as religious scholars, mosque imams, civil society, the youth, academic institutions, media.

The second group of women is a number of ordinary Muslim women in several Muslim majority and minority contexts, navigating the lived realities of their marriages in their respective contexts within the framework of codified or uncodified family laws and Quranic ethical values and principles.


Central Argument

I make two points. First, the insights from the hermeneutical studies conducted by these scholars illustrate the process through which patriarchal and essentialist discourses on gender identities, duties, and rights, particularly in regard to marriage and spousal roles, were constructed in the tafsir and fiqh traditions based on particular readings of Qur’anic verses; these readings were shaped by the socio-historical contexts of these exegetes and jurists, and undermined key Quranic ethical values that are repeatedly asserted in the text as the guiding principles for organizing gender relations and rights, The new knowledge produced by the scholars also shows that while there is a similar patriarchal construction of marriage and spousal roles that is recognizable in both classical and modern exegetical and juristic knowledge; the latter is framed by distinct premises about inherent female domesticity and male leadership, based on biological determinism. Furthermore, a prevalent understanding in contemporary Muslim religious discourses is the depiction of Islamic textual tradition as one seamless, divine, and unchangeable whole, thus blurring the boundaries between the Qur’an on the one hand and interpretive knowledge on the other. This understanding is unpacked through some of the hermeneutical approaches used by these scholars.

Second, in the lived realities of many Muslims in diverse contexts, women and men do not live according to construction of marital roles in fiqh and tafsir tradition and still sustained (albeit in arbitrary and sometimes modified ways) in many modern Muslim family laws. Moreover, this model of marital roles and rights and its underlying assumptions about gender identities result in inequality and injustice, primarily to women, children, but also men. However, the problems that some women suffer are not about the ideological issue of the desirability (or not) of gender equality as a value. These women cannot find in these laws the core ethical message of the Qur’an, as they have come to know and experience it through individual engagements with the Quranic text and the Prophetic Sunnah, and for some, through reflective religious education.


Research Background

My analysis is informed by the findings of four recent studies that I have undertaken. The first is a four-year (2007-2010) qualitative study of Egyptian family laws and the reforms introduced since 2000. This study, which I conducted during my previous post as a research faculty at the American University in Cairo is based on a large body of interview data that I collected with the assistance of two research assistants[2] from: litigants, judges, lawyers, court-based mediators in family disputes; women’s rights activists, religious scholars, public thinkers, legislators, and women and men of different marital statuses. I also conducted observation of courtroom proceedings and analyzed the court records of selected cases.

Second, I draw on a four-year on-going study, which I began in 2013[3], and which researches the marriage norms and practices of Muslim immigrants in Finland. The research data for this study are being collected from: individual interviews and focus group discussions with women and men; life stories of selected informants; interviews with members of mosque-based committees mediating in family disputes; participant observation of mosque-organized seminars to promote ‘Islamic norms’ guiding Muslim marriages and family life.

Third, I draw on a Musawah-led research called Global Life Stories Project, and which is part of a larger knowledge building initiative focusing on the two juristic concepts of qiwamah and wilayah. As the research coordinator for this project, I worked over the course of three years (2011-2013) with research teams from 10 countries to design and implement a study entailing the documentation and analysis of the life stories of women from different walks of life, focusing on life experiences that are traceable to qiwamah and wilayah-based norms. The countries are Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, and the United Kingdom[4].

Finally, I draw on some of the initial findings from my on-going five-year study of selected interpretive knowledge projects, undertaken predominantly by Muslim women scholars, and which engage with Islamic religious sciences, driven by the question of gender justice[5]. The focus of this research is twofold. The first is selected transnational knowledge projects[6] undertaken by a number of scholars who are working on the Qur’an and exegetical tradition; classical jurisprudence and its linkages to modern family laws; and Sufi thought. They are Amina Wadud; Asma Barlas, Omaima-Abou Bakr, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kecia Ali, and Sa’diyya Shaikh. The second focus is a case study of Egyptian interpretive knowledge projects, which have strong linkages and ties to the above-mentioned projects (but also these projects have their own context-specific particularities and divergences). In the case study, I am focusing on the Arabic scholarship of Omaima Abou-Bakr and Hoda El Saadi at the research organization Women and Memory Forum. I am also studying the collaborative Arabic scholarship that Abou-Bakr is producing with other Egyptian scholars, conducting similar studies such as Amany Saleh, Hend Mostafa, and Fatma Hafez at the research organization Woman and Civilization. I am also studying the  advocacy and training work of the non-governmental Egyptian organization Mada Foundation, which is supporting and linking this new scholarship to the organization’s goal of promoting new religious and social discourses that affirm plurality, inclusiveness, and cooperative relations within Egyptian families and among different sectors of the society. My overall research in this project entails close analysis of the works of the studied scholars, as well as interviews and participant observation.


I. Revisiting the Ethical and Legal in the Interpretive Tradition: Alternative Knowledge

The work of Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Kecia Ali on Islamic jurisprudence and its construction of the marriage contract highlight the question of the ‘ethical’ and its relationship to the legal. I will focus here on Mir-Hosseini’s work. Ziba Mir-Hosseini problematizes how jurists defined the marriage contract as a “contract of exchange and patterned on the contract of sale,”[7] whose objective was to make sexual relations between the two contracting parties licit. Mir-Hosseini points out that juristic construction of marriage contract stipulated a set of rights for both spouses, some legally enforceable, and others subject only to moral sanctions. This construction of marriage also provided the context for men’s legal right to unilateral repudiation and polygamy. The rights and duties that carried legal weight focused on a husband’s duty to provide versus wife’s duty to be obedient; and husband’s right to repudiate or take multiple wives. Nevertheless, the abuse of the right to unilateral repudiation or polygamy, for instance, was merely subject to moral sanction. Still pre-modern jurists, Mir-Hosseini adds, were concerned about the welfare of women: they warned husbands against doing injustice to women and put in some checks on husbands’ authority and privileges (e.g. they linked men’s right to unilateral repudiation with payment of financial rights that were due to the wife; they restricted a husband’s authority over his wife to sexual access; and they regulated the ways in which a husband could discipline his wife). However, their very construction of the marriage contract, its goal, and the particular rights and duties that were privileged overshadowed the ethical (and perhaps the central aspects) of Islamic marriage as defined in the Qur’an. And this juristic construction of the marriage contract and its underlying concept of men’s qiwamah over women, shared by all schools notwithstanding some doctrinal differences among them, became the foundation or the “DNA of patriarchy in Muslim family laws,” as Mir-Hosseini’s and Anwar’s put it[8].

Focusing on tafsir literature, the other component of Islamic interpretive tradition, Omaima Abou-Bakr in a recent study traces the development of qiwamah as a patriarchal construct, sanctioning gender inequality and essentialist discourse on maleness and femininity. Through a genealogical critical reading of the main exegetical works starting from the 10th century al-Tabari up to the early 20th century[9] and the work of Muhammad Abduh, Abou-Bakr examines exegetes’ interpretations of qiwamah in verse 4:34. She shows the following: first, exegetes turned ‘qawwamun’ in verse 4:34- from a description of a particular social organization of marital roles at the time of the revelation when men provided for women - to a prescriptive construct (articulated through the use of the noun qiyam first and then later qiwamah)  to sanction male authority and superiority; second, exegetes came up with lists of qualities[10] that they attributed arbitrarily to men and women to justify  men’s claim to authority and superiority on the basis of the constructed norm of qiwamah; third, they linked the concept of qiwamah to verse 2:228 and the notion of men having ‘degree’ over women that is expressed in this latter verse in order to re-enforce the hierarchal meaning of qiwamah although verse 2: 228 is located in a unit of verses that tackles the theme of divorce and its central message is to urge both spouses not to do injustice to one another, and fourth, exegetes of modern times cemented the meaning of qiwamah by ascribing inherent domesticity to women versus inherent intellectual superiority and leadership in men[11].

Still Abou-Bakr stresses the importance of recognizing the significant distinction between the patriarchy of pre-modern jurists and that of modern exegesis. Pre-modern exegetical discourse certainly privileged men and subordinated women, but it also stressed men’s duty to protect women, to be good husbands and fathers, not to do zulm to their wives and made their privileges linked to men’s fulfillment of these duties as part of their religious duty to actualize taqwa towards Allah. Modern exegetical discourse, on the other hand, is centered on modernist understandings of innate female domesticity and male rationality and leadership, resulting in clear-cut divisions between private female-centered domain and public male-centered domain. Abou-Bakr points out that the patriarchy of this modernist exegetical discourse is more detrimental to women because it shifts attention away from men’s duties and obligations and focuses entirely on women as the bearers of the blame for all family problems[12].

Through Abou-Bakr’s genealogical reading, we are able to have a new look at tafsir not as a seamless unchangeable sacred tradition, but as historically based religious knowledge. Abou- Bakr, also uses the method of intertextuality whereby she juxtaposes different types of texts in the tradition (e.g. exegetical books, biographical dictionaries, Sufi treaties) to examine how these texts can speak to one another. The goal is to shed light on how meanings and concepts travel across different texts in the tradition; how they are reinforced or refuted; and where hidden and alternative discourses can be unearthed. For example, she examines the biographical dictionary that the 15th century historian and hadith scholar al-Sakhawi wrote about Muslim women hadith scholars and juxtaposes it to the exegetical works of Ibn Kathir and al-Suyyuti who wrote at the same time[13]. She notes that while al-Sakhawi was describing these women using terms such as “rational, judicious, and of intelligent mind, and leading in mind and in religion,”[14] Ibn Kathir and al-Suyyuti were writing about wifely obedience and ascribing subordination and inferiority in intellect and moral character to women, drawing on prophetic hadith that claims women are deficient in intellect and religion.

Abou-Bakr’s hermeneutical methods unpack Islamic interpretive textual tradition. This tradition, as the locus of religious norms on gender, is not confined to primary sources such as Qur’an or Sunnah, but also contains exegetical works, fiqh manuals, biographical dictionaries, Sufi treaties, etc. Furthermore, her methodological contributions show that across and within these texts, meanings and constructs regarding gender norms were not only built and re-enforced but also contested. That is this interpretive tradition is not “monolith but contains within it signs of counter-discourse as well.”[15] Such unpacking helps demystify the tradition, while preserving its importance and significance for the believers of this faith. That is, the broader goal of this kind of hermeneutical engagement is to go beyond merely problematizing or replacing patriarchal interpretations; it aims to establish what she calls a new “intellectual ijtihad” that is grounded in Quranic ethics of justice.

While the works of Mir-Hosseini and Abou-Bakr and others focus primarily on identifying the epistemological and ethical gaps in Islamic interpretive tradition (i.e. diagnosing the problem), perhaps the works of Amina Wadud[16] takes a step further by providing an alternative framework for reform within the tradition. To illustrate, I will briefly examine Wadud’s concept of ‘ethics of tawhid’[17]. Wadud argues that tawhid is the essence of the Quranic message to human beings; the foundation for Quranic worldview; and the normative divinely inspired framework that is to guide human-God relation and human-human relations. Hence, Wadud contends that Muslim gender norms and relations, like all other social ones, need to be located in an ‘ethics of tawhid.’ She explains that tawhid, as the basis for Islamic theology, has three important dimensions. First, it is premised on the central truth that God is one. Second, all attributes of God and their essences are in harmony and unity. Thus, attributes of God that may seem to be contradictory (e.g. wrath, mercy, being the first and last, the apparent and the hidden, etc.) are in fact in absolute harmony. Moreover, God created the world, including the human female and male, in dual forms, and each in their own inner reality as well as together reflect the Divine reality of oneness and harmony. Third, an important dimension of tawhid is that ‘God unites’ and brings together differences. This has important implications for social relations (and in turn for gender relations). It means that perceived differences between people should be guided by the principle of tawhid, which is grounded in the principle “of unity above hegemony,” and requires “reciprocity, equality and harmony in all human relationships.” Thus, if tawhid as a central theological principle of Islam is to be implemented on both the individual and collective levels, it would be a “counter construct” for qiwamah, since the latter sanctions unequal gender relations and male superiority and thus contravenes with the essence of tawhid.


II. The Ethical and Legal in Muslim Lived Realities of Marriage and Marital Roles

 According to the findings of the empirical studies I conducted, Muslim women and men often do not live according to the gender roles ascribed in Islamic jurisprudence or modern family laws. Women (whether wives or single daughters) are either the main providers or play central economic roles in their families[18]. Still state laws and social norms largely sustain the notion of the authority of the male guardian over the female ward and the husband over the wife, along with the unequal rights allocated to the two in these relationships. However, the issue is not that nowadays women provide and men do not. In fact, many historical studies show that women in different contexts and eras played economic roles. The issue is the assumptions and discourse on men and women’s gender identities that underlie this model of marital roles creates challenges for women and men on multiple levels (ethically, legally, and in the daily life).

For example, in the study on Egyptian personal status laws and the realities of marriage, I found that poor women who work and provide for their conjugal families feel ambivalent about this work; they do not receive any legal rights or claims in the family domain because of this economic role (unlike the husbands); and they are often deprived of adequate pay and good working conditions. Men feel torn between the need for women’s economic contribution and a sense of threat and inadequacy because of their inability to fulfill the role of the provider, particularly in harsh socioeconomic conditions. In family courts, female litigants encounter a host of problems because of the gaps in this model. Therefore, for instance, obedience lawsuits filed by husbands and contested by women are not so much about spousal maintenance in exchange for wifely obedience as they are about tensions arising from ambivalence about women’s work as well as unequal access to divorce. In addition, because in this model marital sex is primarily constructed as the husband’s right and a wife’s duty, spousal sexual abuse or violence is either hardly ever acknowledged in the legal process or understood in a very narrow sense that is limited to anal sexual intercourse as it is prohibited in Islamic law[19].

The incongruence between the legal/religious script of spousal roles and rights and the lived realities is most visible and problematic in the former’s constructions of essentialist gender identities that are premised on male intellectual and moral superiority versus female irrationality and fickleness. These constructions are traceable to dominant exegetical interpretations of the concept of qiwamah in Quranic verse 4:34, as illustrated in Abou-Bakr’s work. I wish to highlight how these constructions are reflected in family laws and public discourses that people draw on. For example, the opposition or reservation against Egyptian women’s right to unilaterally initiate judicial khul´ which were repeatedly expressed to me by a wide range of informants in the Egyptian study (e.g. judges, male and female court mediators, and male litigants and husbands) was frequently linked to men’s right to qiwamah and based on arguments that cast women as intellectually and morally fickle and hence unfit to have this right. One male informant put it as follows: “The man no longer has qiwamah over his wife, especially after khul´. If he says anything to her that she does not like, she tells him I will divorce you.” However, the majority of the khul´ cases I studied[20] were initiated by female litigants for: husbands’ failure to support; spousal abuse (physical and sexual); husband’s infidelity; husband’s polygamy, husband’s abandonment. Though these reasons constituted legal grounds for judicial divorce on the ground of harm, the litigants opted for khul´ because the former legal course was lengthy, expensive, and highly uncertain in its outcome. Female informants, in particular, expressed experiencing an ethical dilemma because of the incongruence between their understanding of Quranic justice and the necessities of their lived realities on the one hand and the constructions of spousal roles and rights in public religious discourses and legal codes, on the other hand.

The grappling with the ethical in family laws was also articulated by Muslim women in Diaspora contexts where the religious laws regulating Muslim marriages and family life were not codified but were still recognizably fiqh-based. For example, in Finland, twenty-five-year-old, Nefisa, a Muslim Finnish woman of Somali background, argued that Muslim spousal roles should not be fixed but to be renegotiated as part of a larger religious process of cultivating a spiritually refined Muslim self and to lead a life of taqwa:

          "Islamically also for me, as a woman, it is extra ajir (reward from God) if I share with him the responsibility…. for me, it obviously made sense. It was no way his pay alone would cover everything. So Islamically I would get ajir and it was in my best interest, so why not …. We used to have this conversation with other Somali girls about the finances and whether you should contribute or not in the household. I know a couple of girls who would say ‘No, No, why would I share the money with him (their husbands)? Let him provide for me.’ And it never made sense to me, it did not feel right. I thought that is not very clever. At the end of the day he is not some random guy, it is your husband, you should act as a family, you should be concerned about him. Otherwise, it is just some business arrangement in the house. So, this idea that this is mine felt absurd to me"

Samira, a twenty year old university student critiqued Somali diasporic marriage norms, which while they discursively upheld juristic constructions of spousal roles (i.e. provision versus obedience) marginalized, in her view, an ethically-grounded Islamic model of marriage, based on the Prophet’s role model as a husband and on key Qura’nic values that foreground love, compassion, and reciprocity in a Muslim marriage:

            "I read a lot about the Prophet and about Islamic marriage. There is no love in Somali marriage. I wanted to understand the difference between our culture and what religion actually teaches us. I found there is a big difference: for Somalis, love is ‘eeb’ (shameful, taboo); they do not say I love you to one another, they do not send text messages to each other; they do not show affection to one another. But in our religion marriage is ´mawada wa rahma’ (affection and mercy). The Prophet was our role model, was gentle, playful, affectionate with his wives. He would drink milk from the same place as Aisha drank, he would race her, he would be patient when she got jealous and got mad at him. Couples, as it says in the Qur’an are libās (garments) to one another[21]."

Again, adopting an ethically guided framework that is grounded in the Qur’an, informants such as Nefisa and others also rejected polygamy because they saw it as contravening with the higher goal of cultivating an ethical Muslim self that is in harmonious relations with others. Nefisa, who inserted a stipulation against polygamy in her marriage contract, argued that polygamy would inevitably result in marital conflicts between her and her husband and thus would get in the way of a harmonious marital relationship that would enable her to cultivate an ethically responsible Muslim self, in preparation for the afterworld and accountability to God. Another informant who got divorced from her husband when he remarried used similar argument: she was opposed to polygamy because she believed it resulted in spouses’ failure  to provide ‘mawada’ and ‘rahma’ to one another, and which she saw as integral to Islamic marriage and the goal of raising a good Muslim family together.

It is noteworthy that this process of rethinking the relationship between the ethical and legal in which these young female informants were engaged was part of their active quest of religious knowledge and learning. They attended weekly classes on Islamic jurisprudence and exegeses in their local mosques; took part in annual ten-day seminars, given by transnational religious scholars, and which were arranged local mosques; avidly read different religious texts avidly; and they partook in religious debates among themselves and with other youth on social media. And while only few of these Somali Muslim women informants from Finland have heard of the Muslim women scholars mentioned earlier, I wish to note here the similarities in the premises and concerns of both groups of women regarding the interpretive tradition and its modern manifestations (in family laws and uncodified fiqh rulings).

Again, the need to link the ethical with the legal was stressed by informants in Musawah’s Global Life Stories Project. Moreover, some of these informants, as a result of their experiences of suffering and injustice because of religiously sanctioned norms and/or laws, embarked on a journey of extensive religious learning, seeking answers to their ethical dilemmas and then imparting new gender sensitive religious knowledge to other women. This was the case of a forty-three-year-old Indonesian woman who after two abusive marriages pursued formal education in religious sciences and began giving religion lessons and public lectures to women to educate them about Islamic interpretive tradition. For this informant, her new mission was important not only because of her experiences of gender-based injustice, but also because as a young girl and woman she was trained by her father and father in law to teach Qur’anic recitation to children in their Islamic school in east Java. This early and first-hand experience with the Qur’an led her to believe that justice and equality were core values in the divine text, even though at the time she did not have analytical knowledge in which she could situate this belief[22].



The women scholars I discussed in the paper are concerned with the question of regimes of religious authority and knowledge, with hermeneutics, and with gender equality and justice from an Islamic perspective. Moreover, the ordinary women whom I interviewed in different contexts are not necessarily concerned with gender equality but primarily with seeking a meaningful just life that is Islamically grounded. What then links the two? I would argue that both groups are partaking in a similar religious search for the ethically meaningful, a search that can be traced back to the Prophet’s time when some of the Muslim women at that time also came to him and asked him questions that reflected similar concerns. On a phenomenological level, both groups of women as Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, that Islam as a normative text-based tradition is grounded in Quranic ethical principles, which place values such as justice (adl´), affection (mawada), rahma (mercy), the good and kind (ma ´rouf); the charitable and beautiful (ishan), God-consciousness (taqwa) as the basis for spousal relations.

Both groups are also part of a modern history that saw a large-scale diversification of the production, dissemination, and contestation of Islamic religious knowledge, since the late 19th century and early 20th century and onwards[23]. Through their varied quests of religious knowledge, these women find the construction of marriage and spousal duties in Islamic interpretive tradition and its modern manifestations (in family laws and public religious discourses) challenging on multiple levels: on a legal and social level; on an epistemological level; and most of all on an ontological and spiritual level as they find the Quranic ethos at odds with this interpretive and legal tradition. 

Both groups of women, in short, are partaking in a process of internal[24] engagement and reform of their tradition to arrive at Islamically based answers to contentious issues such as gender-based inequalities and to make this tradition and its modern manifestations meaningful to their lives and to their understanding and experience of God, God’s words, and God’s justice.


4/4 Gender Issues: Dr Mesfer Al Ghahtani, Chauki Lazhar, Dr Mulki Al Sharmani, Dr Jamila Mossalli


* Dr. Mulki Al-Sharmani received her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, USA in 2005. She is an Academy of Finland research fellow and a lecturer at Faculty of Theology, Study of Religions Unit, University of Helsinki, Finland. She presented this paper in CILE 3rd Annual International Conference, which was held in Brussels on 14-15 March 2015.





[1] This movement, called Musawah, is a global knowledge building movement established in 2007 and launched in 2009 by Muslim women scholars and activists from different countries. The movement links scholarship with activism by producing new collaborative religious feminist knowledge with the aim of contributing to concrete reforms and bringing about gender equality and justice in the Muslim families. See http://www.musawah.org/. As part of a multi-dimensional five-year knowledge-building initiative on the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah, Musawah brought together many of the studied scholars to conduct hermeneutical studies on these two concepts. See Mir-Hosseini, Z., Al-Sharmani, M., & Rumminger, J. (2015). Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford: OneWorld.

[2] Sawsan Sharif and Fayrouz Gamal at the Social Research Center, the American University in Cairo assisted me in collecting the interview data.

[3] I am the lead researcher for this study, titled ‘Transnational Somali Finnish Families in Finland: Discourses and Lived Realities of Marriage,’ and I am undertaking the research with postdoctoral researcher Abdirashid Ismail. The study is part of a larger Academy of Finland project (2013-2017) titled ‘Transnational Muslim Marriages in Finland: Wellbeing, Law, and Gender,’ directed by Marja Tiilikainen, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki.

[4] See: Al-Sharmani, M., & Rumminger, J. (2015). Understanding Qiwamah and Wilayah through Life Stories. In Z. Mir-Hosseini, M. Al-Sharmani & J. Rumminger (eds.), Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford, UK: OneWorld. pp. 219-255.

[5] My project (2013-2018) is titled ‘Islamic Feminism: Tradition, Authority, and Hermeneutics.’ It is an Academy of Finland funded project and it is based at Faculty of Theology, Study of Religions Unit, University of Helsinki.

[6] I call the work of these scholars transnational for a number of reasons. These scholars are based in academic institutions in different countries in Africa, the Middle East, UK, USA, and Canada. They produce scholarship in English and their published work is widely disseminated to both academic and non-academic readers. Since 2009, they (with the exceptions of Asma Barlas and Kecia Ali) have been collaborating through the global movement, Musawah, to build a coherent body of Islamic feminist knowledge.

[7] Mir-Hosseini, Z. (2015). Muslim Legal Tradition and the Challenge of Gender Equality. In Z. Mir-Hosseini, M. Al-Sharmani & J. Rumminger (eds.), Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford: OneWorld. pp. 13-42. p 15.

[8] Mir-Hosseini, Z. & Anwar, Z. Decoding the “DNA of Patriarchy” in Muslim Family Laws. Open Democracy, May 2012.

[9] Abou-Bakr, O. The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct. In Z. Mir-Hosseini, M. Al-Sharmani & J. Rumminger (eds.), Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford: OneWorld, 2015. pp.44-64.

[10] For example, Abou-Bakr examines al-Zamakhshari’s list of assumed male attributes that are the basis, according to him, for their right to divinely ordained preference (e.g. reason, resoluteness, determination, strength, writing, jihad, loud takbirat, etc.). She also analyzes how subsequent exegetes such as al-Razi, al-Baidwai, al-Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir used and further developed listing binaries of male and female attributes to justify their constructions of qiwamah-based male superiority and privileges.

[11] Abou-Bakr analyzes Muhammad Abduh’s exegesis of qiwamah as an example of this kind of modern religious discourse, illustrating her point by shedding light on his concept of men’s riyasah (rule) over women; his making the case for innate male leadership and intellectual superiority on the grounds of arguments based on biological determinism that is extended to all male versus female species (human and non-human); and his disagreement with pre-modern exegetes on the domestic role of women (providing care, cooking, cleaning). Abduh saw a wife’s domestic role as an essential duty incumbent upon her, whereas pre-modern exegetes did not espouse this understanding. See Abou-Bakr, O. Turning the Tables: Perspectives on the Construction of Muslim Manhood. In Journal of Women of the Middle East and the Islamic World. 11, 2014: 89-107.

[12] Abou-Bakr 2014.

[13] Abou-Bakr, O. Islamic Feminism and the Production of Knowledge: Perspectives from Post-revolutionary Egypt. In: Z. Ali (ed), Feminismes Islamiques (Islamic Feminisms). Paris: Le Fabrique Editions. 2012. P 7. (English version of the French article, written by the author.

[14] Ibid. P7.

[15] Ibid. P7.

[16] Sa’diyya Shaikh’s recent work can also be read as offering a corrective to Islamic interpretive tradition through a Sufi-based reading of Islamic law by resituating it within Sufi concepts such as striving against the ego, working on the spiritual betterment of the nafs, and actualizing ‘al-insan al kamil’ (the perfect man) within as part of the theological pathway to the Divine Creator. See Sa’diyya Shaikh. Islamic Law, Sufism, and Gender: Rethinking the Terms of Debate. In Z. Mir-Hosseini, M. Al-Sharmani & J. Rumminger (eds.), Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford: OneWorld, 2015. pp. 106-131. But both Wadud and Shaikh’s conceptual and interpretive frameworks can also be seen as not having direct legal linkages to marriage and spousal duties and rights.

[17] Wadud, Amina. The Ethics of Tawhid over the Ethics of Qiwamah. In Z. Mir-Hosseini, M. Al-Sharmani & J. Rumminger (eds.), Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. Oxford: OneWorld, 2015.  Pp.256-274.

[18] Al-Sharmani and Rumminger 2015, Al-Sharmani, Mulki. “Reflections on Islamic Feminist Readings of Jurisprudence and its Relevance for the Egyptian Context. In: Abou-Bakr, (ed.), (2013b), Islamic and Feminist Perspectives: New Horizons of Knowledge and Reform. Cairo, Egypt: Women and Memory Forum, in cooperation with the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI) and the Danish Center for Research on Women and Gender (KVINFO). pp. 136-149; Narratives of Egyptian Marriages. (2014).  In: Pereira, C. (ed.), Changing Narratives of Sexuality. London: Zed Books. pp. 193-217; Legal Reform, Women’s Empowerment, and Social Change: The Case of Egypt. In A. Cornwall & J. Edwards (eds.), Feminisms, Empowerment and Development: Changing Women's Lives. London: Zed Books. 2014. pp. 32-48. 2012, 2013, and 2014.

[19] Al-Sharmani, M. Qiwāma in Egyptian Family Laws: Wifely Obedience between Legal Texts, Court Room Practices, and Realities of Marriages. In: Z. Mir-Hosseini, K. Vogt, L. Larsen & C. Moe (eds.), (2013a), Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in the Islamic Legal Tradition. London: I. B. Tauris. pp. 37-56.

[20] See: Al-Sharmani, M. (2012). Egyptian Khul: Legal Reform, Courtroom Practices, and Realities of Women. In: R. Mehdi, W. Menski & J. S. Nielsen (eds.), Interpreting Divorce Laws in Islam. Copenhagen, Denmark: DJǾF Publishing. pp. 85-105.

[21] Al-Sharmani, M. Striving against the Nafs: Revisiting Somali Muslim Spousal Roles and Rights in Finland. In Journal of Religion in Europe, 8, 2015: 101-120.

[22] Al-Sharmani and Rumminger. (2015).  p. 250.

[23] Eickelman, D. Mass Higher Education and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary Arab Societies. American Ethnologist, 19/4 (1992), 642-55; Salvatore, A & Eickelman, D. (eds.), Public Islam and the Common Good. (Leiden: Brill 2004).

[24] See: Amir-Moazami, S., & Salvatore, A. Gender, Generation, and Reform of Tradition: From Muslim Majority Societies to Western Europe. In: S. Allievi & J. Nielsen (eds.), Muslim Networks and Transnational Communities in and across Europe. (Leiden: Brill, 2003). pp. 52-77. p. 53


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