Contesting Justice: Women, Islam, Law, and Society

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Argues that the rights of women in Muslim society are based on the preserved cultural standards of elites, not the ethical philosophy of the Quran.
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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: 9780791473986
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 211
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (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



1. Legal Absolutism and Ethical Relativism
To Know or Not to Know: The Basis of Acts
Cognition through Models and Paradigms

2. The Domain of Ethics and the Law
Chronology of Islamic Thought
Ethics, Morality, and the Law
Determining God’s Position
Core and Marginal Sanctions
Emotion and Law in the Qur’anic Discourse
Threats, Incentives, and Piety
Crime and Punishment

3. Basis for the Practice of Polygamy
On the Methodological and Historical Assumptions
Methodological and Disciplinary Precedence
Polygamy in the Historical Context
The Philology of Polygamy

4. Women in Islamic Law of Inheritance
The Qur’anic and Interpretive Dichotomy
The Legal and Exegetical Treatment of the Verses on Inheritance
Women, Justice, and Interpretation: The Principle of 'Awl
Explicitness, Consensus, and Interpretation
Shares and Heirs in the Comparative Context
Shares and Heirs per Blind Survey
Description of Data Collection
Explanation and Interpretation of Data

5. Women in Modern Times
Linking Polygamy and Inheritance: Disadvantaging Women by the Numbers
Discussing the Status of Women
Other Contested Perspectives
Bespoke Justice versus Tyranny of Majoritism
Inclusion and Exclusion of Women


Appendix A
Timeline of Scholars and Major Figures

Appendix B
Glossary of Key Arabic Terms and Their Derivatives


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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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