Report: Justice Through Equality now available in Arabic and French
This report sums up lessons learned from the expert discussions and written contributions in the nine years the Oslo Coalition project has run, and places some of the key arguments into an editorial synthesis. It is intended for policy-makers, stakeholders and advocates of reform who are developing knowledge-based arguments for legal reform.
Cover page of the report "Justice Through Equality, french edition". Photo: Oslo Coalition
Muslim family law is a sensitive and contested subject. In recent decades, even as most Muslim countries have taken on international legal obligations to promote women’s equality, a political push for ‘Islamisation’ of the state and its laws has resulted in new discriminatory rules. At the same time, developments such as the reformed Moroccan family code of 2004, based both on Islamic sources and international human rights, show that legal reform towards gender equality is possible.
Muslim family laws are based on a jurisprudence shaped by past societies very different from those of today. A major obstacle to gender equality is the way in which classical Muslim jurists linked a husband’s obligation to provide for his family with his wife’s duty to obey him, a much-contested link encapsulated in the notion of male guardianship, expressed in the legal terms qiwama and wilaya.
Justice is a central value in Islam. But what people understand by justice has changed over time. The contest over Muslim family laws involves two radically opposed notions of justice: One found in pre-modern legal discourses and reflected in classical fiqh rulings that sanction discrimination on the basis of gender and status, the other based on modern understandings of justice in which equality is inherent.
Social realities have also changed. Legal solutions designed to uphold justice in a tribal or kin-based society no longer do so for female breadwinners in a modern nation-state where both men and women are full citizens.Those who promote family laws that discriminate against women, claim that Muslims must accept all provisions of these laws as divine and unchangeable. However, Muslim scholars have drawn important distinctions between modern legal codes and the rulings (ahkam) of jurists, between divine Shari‘a (the Path) and human fiqh (understanding of Shari‘a), between rules regulating human transactions and those regarding worship, and between different levels in the purposes of Islamic law. These four crucial distinctions allow scholars to recognize family laws as man-made and changeable in light of changing social conditions and understandings of the religious sources.
Those who have interpreted the sacred texts of Islam, the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, have always done so in light of their own social contexts, common assumptions, and understandings of justice, all of which are subject to change. As realities and conceptions of justice have drastically changed, concerned Muslims are re-reading the texts to discover an ethical and egalitarian message that challenges traditional legal rules, a message of justice and equality for women and men.
To overcome any apparent contradiction between piety and equality, and the gap between secular and religious camps, Muslim women’s movements are basing their work on legal reform on three references simultaneously: religion, rights, and the reality of women’s lives. They are claiming their own rightful place among the diversity of views within Muslim tradition.
About This Report
The Oslo Coalition is an international network of experts and representatives from religious and other life-stance communities, academia, NGOs, international organisations and civil society, based at the University of Oslo and funded by the Norwegian government. It carries out a number of projects to promote freedom of religion or belief worldwide.
Since 2004, the Oslo Coalition project ‘New Directions in Islamic Thought’ has organised six international workshops and produced two books on burning issues of reform from within the Islamic tradition: New Directions in Islamic Thought (ed. Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, London: I.B. Tauris, 2009) and Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law (ed. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kari Vogt, Lena Larsen and Christian Moe, London: I.B. Tauris, 2013) – referred to below as NDIT and GEMFL respectively.
In 2007–2012, the project brought together a diverse group of Muslim experts to discuss gender equality in Muslim family law. They included religious scholars; experts in the social, human and legal sciences; and NGO activists. All shared a commitment to engaging with the Islamic tradition to bring about reform consonant with modern understandings of justice. We held three international workshops in Marrakech and Cairo, and published the book GEMFL, on which this report is based.
The report is intended for policy-makers, stakeholders and advocates of reform who are developing knowledge-based arguments for legal reform. It sums up lessons we have learned from the expert discussions and written contributions, and places some of the key arguments into an editorial synthesis.
We have not sought to develop a consensus statement, and the individual authors cited are not responsible for each other’s arguments, for the particular use we have made of their own work, or for any errors in the presentation. For the full version of the key scholarly findings and arguments as developed by the expert participants, and the evidence and literature they cite, please see the book chapters and other key resources referenced under “Further reading” in each section.
Contact Oslo Coalition for a copy of the report