A significant new law was passed by Egyptian legislators in 2004 introducing family courts to arbitrate family conflict in an effort to promote non-adversarial legal mechanisms. The aim of this paper is to examine how this new legal system is working for female plaintiffs. Through an analysis of court practices in a number of divorce and maintenance cases, this essay will make two central arguments: First, I will argue that the benefits family courts are currently providing to female plaintiffs are limited due to a number of gaps and shortcomings in the legislation, mechanisms of implementation, resources, and the capacity and the training of court personnel. In addition, the legal process in the new courts as well as the substantive family laws that are being implemented continue to reflect gender inequality and biases against women. Secondly, I will argue that the shortcomings of the new court system also result from the approach of addressing gender inequalities through the piecemeal approach of fragmented procedural reforms as well as the contradictions arising from the divergent agendas of the alliances built between different reform actors (e.g. women's rights organizations, government bodies, and legal institution).
I analyze how Somalis in Helsinki re-interpret religious norms on marriage in light of: 1) the challenges of socioeconomic hardships and marginalization in Finland; and 2) ethical principles in Islamic tradition that underlie religious rulings such as striving against the selfishness of the ‘nafs’ (self) and seeking spiritual advancement. I examine how norms on spousal roles and rights are contested and reinterpreted. I highlight how young women, in particular, foreground the ‘ethical' in their religious understandings of marriage norms. I explore if Veit Bader’s concept of ‘internal religious governance’ can analytically explain these processes. I draw on data from individual interviews and focus group discussions with women and men; and interviews with mosque imams and a clan elder.
This article focuses on divorce among Somali Muslim migrants in Helsinki, drawing on a four- year qualitative study. I examine how divorce experiences are shaped by the transnational social fields inhabited by my interlocutors through family ties and relationships navigated across multiple national contexts. I show that the break-up of marriage is enabled by gendered shifts in my interlocutors’ access to resources and scope for agency within the context of transnationally-shaped marriages, accompanied by incongruence between spouses’ marriage goals and values. I trace these shifts and their underlying discourses. I argue that gender as a marker of difference and power is experienced in fluid and mixed ways as husbands and wives have differentiated claims to resources such as education, income, legal rights, and welfare provisions. These gendered experiences are also shaped by my interlocutors’ positioning within a new religious discourse that revisits Muslim spousal roles and rights, particularly men’s privileges and practices.
This paper tackles the vexed relationship between the ethical and the legal in the patriarchal construction of marriage and spousal rights in Islamic interpretive tradition and its modern manifestations (i.e. contemporary Muslim family laws and conservative religious discourses). I approach the issue from two angles. First, I examine the work of selected Muslim women scholars from different countries, who since the late 1980s and early 1990s have been engaging critically with Islamic interpretive tradition, to unpack and critique patriarchal interpretations and rulings on marriage and divorce rights, and provide alternative egalitarian readings that are grounded in Qurʾānic ethics. Second, I shed light on how this patriarchal construction of marriage and gender rights impacts the lived realities of ordinary Muslim women and men. I focus on two national contexts: Egypt and Finland. I show-through analysis of courtroom practices in family disputes, marriage practices, and ordinary women’s understandings of the sacred text-that the exegetical and juristic construction of spousal roles and rights is increasingly unsustainable in the lived realities of many Muslims as well as becoming a source of tension on an ethico-religious level.
Muslim marriages are far from homogeneous, and the inherent variability of norms and practices is often missing in the framing of such marriages in Western societies. Marriage and family laws in Muslim-majority contexts are sights of contention, debate, and development. These debates often centre around family as a site of state governance driven by overlapping national and international agendas; gender equality and calls for marriage law reform; and tensions between Islamic jurisprudence, state laws, and lived realities. This introductory article sets the scene for this special issue focussing on the plurality of norms and practices in Muslim marriages within Muslim-majority jurisdictions.