Islamic feminism and Arab family laws: Increasing the Impact?

How to Cite

Christiansen , C. (2021). Islamic feminism and Arab family laws: Increasing the Impact?. Al-Raida Journal, 44(2), 99 - 111.


Islamic family laws are inseparable from gender inequality, and limit the rights of women in Muslim families. The codification of Islamic family laws in Arab countries generally occurred after independence from colonial rule (Mir-Hosseini, 2015). Within recent decades, transnational social movements focused on Islamic family laws have increased, based on the pioneering work of Fatima Mernissi, Azizah Al-Hibri, Leila Ahmed, and Amina Wadud. In the early 1990s, these scholars engaged in Islam and women’s rights by reinterpreting Qur’anic verses and hadith—the reported sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Margot Badran gives a concise definition of Islamic feminism: “It is a feminist discourse and practice articulated within an Islamic paradigm” (2009, p. 242). This definition, however, does not reveal the highly controversial status of the term, a consequence of the continued conflict between Islam and liberal notions of individual agency (Mahmood, 2005), and of the intimate historical links between feminism and colonial discourses that have given rise to the perception that feminism is a foreign and hostile intervention in Muslim countries (Ahmed, 1992). The liberal and cosmopolitan language of Islamic feminism, or as Badran characterizes it, the proximity and interconnectedness of secular and Islamic feminism, in the eyes of some, is the reason for its controversial status. Barazangi, for example, rejects Islamic feminism on the grounds that the term signifies a reading of Islamic scriptures from one particular angle (feminist) and not just a reading. Barazangi suggests, instead, the concept “Women-Scholar-Activism” to describe the women who mobilize to increase women’s rights within an Islamic framework, and centers the term within an “Islamic paradigm” (2016, p. 76).
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