What If Sharia Weren’t the Enemy? Rethinking International Women’s Rights Advocacy on Islamic Law
University of Wisconsin Law School
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 25, No. 5, 2011
Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1154
For many international women’s rights activists, especially those operating from a western context, sharia is believed to be a major obstacle to women’s rights. In order to protect women from Muslim religious law, these advocates often position themselves aggressively against so-called sharia legislation, and sharia in general. I believe that this approach is counterproductive, and ultimately exacerbates, rather than improves, the situation for women living in Muslim-majority countries. In this article I explain how current international feminist strategies have helped create an unwinnable and unnecessary war: that of “sharia vs. women’s rights.” Drawing on observations incident to my work on the zina (extra-marital sex) laws in Nigeria and Pakistan, I argue for an alternative: international women’s rights advocates concerned about the situation of Muslim women would do better not to mention Islamic law at all. This would be a major strategy shift, requiring significant restraint on the part of western secular feminist activists, but I believe it is worth it. Below, I explain how, with this shift in approach, international women’s rights advocates might more effectively contribute to securing rights for women in Muslim-majority countries. This shift could also open up a new appreciation for a wider spectrum of feminism – including that coming from a sharia-mindful perspective. In short, I argue for a world of international advocacy for women that is nuanced and sophisticated and works with - not against - the reality of sharia in Muslim lives.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 40
Keywords: Feminism, Islamic Law, Sharia, Islam, Muslim, Women, Women's RightsAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 18, 2011 ; Last revised: May 3, 2012
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