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Contesting Justice: Women, Islam, Law, and Society

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Contesting Justice examines the development of the laws and practices governing the status of women in Muslim society, Particularly in terms of marriage, polygamy, inheritance, and property rights. Ahmed E. Souaiaia argues that such laws were not methodically derived from legal sources but rather are the preserved understanding and practices of the early ruling elite. Based on his quantitative, linguistic, and normative analyses of Qur'anic texts-and contrary to the established practice-the author shows that these texts sanction only monogamous marriages, guarantee only female heirs' shares, and do not prescribe an inheritance principle that awards males twice the shares of females. He critically explores the way religion is developed and then is transformed into a social control mechanism that transcends legal reform, gender-sensitive education, or radical modernization. To ameliorate the legal, political, and economic status of women in the Islamic world, Souaiaia recommends the strengthening of civil society institutions that will challenge wealth-engendered majoritism, curtail society-manufactured conformity, and bridle the absolute power of the state.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“…[Souaiaia’s] ideas are illuminating … his examination of Qur’anic laws, particularly those concerning women, should resonate well in the international community. Moreover, he offers moderate Muslims a refreshing new approach to the sort of interpretations that have traditionally stifled women’s advancement.” — Religion

“Contesting Justice may be appreciated from two points of view. It is, on the one hand, an advocacy piece, an original contribution to Islamic thought … But Justice also includes at least two chapters which, although part of the author’s impassioned argument for a new view of Islamic law, also contain material that reveals much about the workings of the classical tradition … [Souaiaia] is surely an intellectual to watch on the North American Muslim scene.” — Studies in Religion

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780791473979
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 3/6/2008
  • Pages: 211
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ahmed E. Souaiaia is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa and the author of The Function of Orality in Islamic Law and Practices: Verbalizing Meaning.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

1 Legal Absolutism and Ethical Relativism 15

To Know or Not to Know: The Basis of Acts 17

Cognition through Models and Paradigms 22

2 The Domain of Ethics and the Law 25

Chronology of Islamic Thought 27

Ethics, Morality, and the Law 29

Determining God's Position 29

Core and Marginal Sanctions 33

Emotion and Law in the Qur'anic Discourse 34

Threats, Incentives, and Piety 34

Crime and Punishment 36

3 Basis for the Practice of Polygamy 43

On the Methodological and Historical Assumptions 43

Methodological and Disciplinary Precedence 45

Polygamy in the Historical Context 48

The Philology of Polygamy 50

4 Women in Islamic Law of Inheritance 59

The Qur'anic and Interpretive Dichotomy 60

The Legal and Exegetical Treatment of the Verses on Inheritance 62

Women, Justice, and Interpretation: The Principle of Awl 68

Explicitnes, Consensus, and Interpretation 72

Shares and Heirs in the Comparative Context 72

Shares and Heirs per Blind Survey 79

Description of Data Collection 79

Explanation and Interpretation of Data 80

5 Women in Modern Times 87

Discussion 87

Linking Polygamy and Inheritance: Disadvantaging Women by the Numbers 87

Discussing the Status of Women 88

Other Contested Perspectives 89

Bespoke Justice versus Tyranny of Majoritism 103

Inclusion and Exclusion of Women 119

Conclusion 121

Appendix A Timeline of Scholars and Major Figures 127

Appendix B Glossary of Key Arabic Terms and Their Derivatives 133

Notes 149

Bibliography 177

Index 191

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted March 22, 2009

    Contesting Justice: An Exercise in Courage

    There has been a rise in the number of published books dealing with Islam. This work is a true paradigm shifter: it identifies the primary sources of the law, it disconnects the interpretations from the texts, it reviews recent scholarship, and provides new standards for dealing with social justice issues. Something else is refreshing about this work: the courage with which the author challenges both traditional Muslim scholars and Western intellectuals. I knew that I have in my hands an exceptional book when I read in the introduction declarations such as this one: "The Islamic civilization. undoubtedly had its achievements, its heroes, and its icons. But it also had its second-class citizens, its victims, its slaves, its cheap labor, its consumers, and its privileged elite." (pp. 7-8). The author, Ahmed Souaiaia, was not unrestricted by apologetics' rhetoric nor was he bashful in showing the complicity of the liberal West in maintaining authoritarian regimes for short term gains.

    The author is clearly familiar with the complex debate of these issues and he enriches it thanks to his astounding proficiency in the languages of the original texts. He moves fluidly between the legal arguments and linguistic analyses to deconstruct the so-called precedents that limited women's property rights. Boldly, Souaiaia shows that the Qur'an protected women's inheritance rights but it was the elite who instituted a practice that is contrary to the explicit sanctions of the Qur'an.

    Daringly, Souaiaia shows the role of many women in preserving a tradition that disadvantaged the weak. He challenges the theory that women's participation in the political and legislative processes would have eliminated discriminating against women by showing that in most cases, Muslim women were the strongest preservers of tradition and the most committed resisters of radical change.

    Most original were the author's claims that Islamic law did not envision a system of brutal punishment; rather, exerted deterrence through what he calls communicative justice, which operated on the psychological and emotional levels to instill proper behavior. Also, the author beautifully applied the peculiar story of the Qur'an that links Moses to the "Knower" (khidr) to show the pervasiveness of religious morality among the "adherents" even in the face of what may be seen as unjust.

    If I have to point out a weakness of this work, I would say its complexity. This work does not take a linear path to treat a single subject. Instead, it raises questions in the fields of ethics, jurisprudence, theology, and social behavior each of which could be treated in a book. But somehow, the author manages with extreme skill to show that all these paths lead to his findings. I don't think that this work could have stood out without that complexity; it is proof that not the theory (explanation) that is noteworthy; it is the method and approach that support such a theory that is at the foundation of original works. Contesting Justice is, without doubt, an original work; and Souaiaia is, without doubt, a scholar in valor.

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  • Posted February 15, 2009

    An Introductory Western View of Contesting Justice

    Ahmed Souaiaia brings a plethora of issues to light, such as human rights for Muslim women in religious and secular nations, gender roles in upholding inequality between the sexes, the reality that reformation in law only caters to those who have the money to hire a lawyer, and many more issues that could never be addressed in one review. Although the book frames the above issues around inheritance and polygamy for Muslims, it allows a reader who may not be as versed to peer into the psyche of law based around the Qur'an and Islamic tradition. If the reader knows the general background of the prophet Muhammad, then Souaiaia's Contesting Justice will be a dense, but comprehensive read that will expose the other side of the coin in our western perception of Islam.<BR/>A wonderful example of introductory comprehensibility is Souaiaia's explanation of the ambiguity of legal decisions based on interpretation within the Qur'an and Islamic law by using real situations from past official judgments within the U.S. For example, freedom of speech is a constitutional right in the U.S.A. because the First Amendment explicitly protects it. On the other hand, abortion rights are not an explicitly stated constitutional right. Because of the non-explicitness of abortion in the constitution, interpretation was needed and some jurists found that abortion was rooted in the right to privacy. Even then the right to privacy was an interpretive ruling from Justice Louis Brandeis' "a right to be left alone." The right to privacy evolved into a "liberty of personal autonomy" protected by the Fourteenth amendment. Souaiaia's own knowledge of the U.S. legal system allows us to see the comparisons and difficulties of interpretive law within the Qur'an, Islamic jurisprudence, and our own system. The above example is only one of countless ways Souaiaia links the introductory reader to a world not understood by many Westerners. I would encourage anybody who wishes to read quantifiable, balanced, authoritative, and critical material to purchase Contesting Justice: Women, Islam, Law and Society.

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