Islamic Family Law in a Changing World

By Abu-Odeh, Lama | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Islamic Family Law in a Changing World


Abu-Odeh, Lama, The Middle East Journal


LAW Islamic Family Law in a Changing World, ed. by Abdullahi A. An-Na'im. London, UK and New York: Zed Books, 2002. xvi + 303 pages. Gloss, to p. 311. Index of countries and general index to p. 320. $69.95 cloth; $27.50 paper.

Islamic Family Law in a Changing World, a survey of family law in Islamic countries, is the result of a collaborative effort including Abdullah A. An-Na'im, the editor of the book, and several other scholars. But the book is not a survey in the usual fashion of presenting a formalist exposition of the rules on the family. It also provides an account of the social and historical factors in the countries/regions surveyed and the way such factors interact with the law to produce "gender" in the Islamic world today. The goal is to impress upon the readers the complexity and uniqueness of Islamic family law in each of the localities covered in the book.

The book is impressive in the vast expanse of territory it surveys (from Central Asia and the Caucasus to East and Central Africa to Middle East and South Asia, among others) and in the range of subjects it covers (including social, cultural and historical background as well as detailed legal profiles of these various countries and regions). The entry on each country/region is encyclopedic in style, condensed, and quite informative. Its various chapters are written in summary form and are designed more to inform than to make any particular argument beyond the overall methodological one of combining law with society.

Besides seeking to inform readers, AnNa'im hopes that the book proves to be of use to advocates of reform of family in the Islamic world. As he argues in the preface, the question for these reformers is always "how to achieve significant and sustainable reform in the face of...rhetorical absolutist" arguments made by the conservative and fundamentalist forces from the right (p. xi). If you are a reformer, you are advised to know how to argue your case, and this book should help you do exactly that.

While the disparate chapters of the book provide the reviewer with little to comment on, the introduction to the book written by An-Na'im and for which he claims sole responsibility, is quite another matter. It is thoughtful and provocative, and thus deserves close attention in its own right.

Early in the introduction, An-Na'im makes a stark proposal: "I will argue for the transformation of family law into a normative system that is guided by modern notions of social policy as well as Islamic precepts, but not bound by Sharia, or represented as such" (p. 1). In case this quote leaves you to wonder the extent to which An-Na'im is advocating the de-Islamicization of family law in the Islamic world, the end paragraph of the introduction dispels all doubts:

For my part, I am hereby calling for a clear and categorical acknowledgement of the fact that family law in the Islamic countries today is not, and indeed cannot and should not be, founded on Shari'a. Like all aspects of the legal system of each country, family law is really based on the political will of the state, and not on the will of God. After all there is no way of discovering and attempting to live by the will of God except through the agency of human being (p. 20).

In other words, An-Na'im is not only calling for the secularization of family law in the Islamic world, but for the acknowledgement that it is already secularized. The starkness of his proposition comes from the fact that at this particular time, scholars of Islamic family law, historians and legal scholars alike, seem to have reached a consensus that transforming the rules on family law in the Islamic world is, normatively but also realistically, only conceivable within the paradigm of Shari'a and not outside it, as An-Na'im is proposing. Most such scholars would support their argument for reform of the rules either by advocating a fresh return to the main sources of the religion, or by appealing to some new rule that they argue is more authentically Islamic than the distorted rules of the present time, or by sifting through the rules to decide which are determinate and which are not. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Islamic Family Law in a Changing World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.