What If Sharia Weren’t the Enemy? Rethinking International Women’s Rights Advocacy on Islamic Law
40 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2011 Last revised: 3 May 2012
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.
Keywords: Feminism, Islamic Law, Sharia, Islam, Muslim, Women, Women's Rights
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