Friday, May 30, 2003

Islam and Woman: different perspective

One of Iranian anthropologist that I have read her articles and some chapters of her books is Dr. Ziba Mir Hosseini. She is the author of "Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law in Iran and Morocco", "Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran" and "Feminism and the Islamic Republic: Dialogues with the Ulema". She has also produced with Kim Longinotto, two feature-length documentaries on contemporary issues in Iran: "Divorce Iranian Style" (1998) and "Runaway" (2001). I think that people who like to know more about Iranian women and their current situation in Iran, they may find the answer of their questions in her books. Here I quote some parts of the preface to the second edition of “ Marriage On Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law.
I was concerned and often dismayed by a dominant approach in the literature of the 1980s on women in Muslim societies, mostly produced by women from Muslim backgrounds writing in English or French. These writers seemed to share - and thus helped to reproduce - the essentialist and Orientalist assumptions purveyed by many of their Islamist antagonists about gender in Islam, as divinely ordained and immutable, rather than (as I had experienced it) as changing and thus open to negotiation and modification. Like the Islamists, it seemed to me, these writers were selective in their arguments, had an ahistorical understanding of Islam and gender, resorted to the same kinds of sophistry, and resisted readings of Islamic law which treated it like any other system of law, disguising their resistance by obfuscation and misrepresentation. Both, in other words, had a strongly ideological approach; and in the final analysis they read what they wanted into Islam, though in pursuit of different agendas, the one Islamist and the other western-orientated feminist.
In Marriage on Trial, I tried to shift the debate on the relation between Islamic law and women to a different level. Instead of condemning the Shari‘a as responsible for all women’s problems, I sought to understand how it operates and in what ways it is relevant to today’s Muslim societies; how individuals, both men and women, make sense of the religious precepts that underlie every piece of legislation regulating their marriages. I also tried to shift the focus away from the ways in which Islamic rules oppress women to the ways in which women can find the contradictions embedded in these rules empowering. In the court cases I had witnessed in Iran and Morocco, I noticed how many women were aware of these contradictions and manipulated them in order to renegotiate, and at times to rewrite, the terms of their marriages. In so doing, they sometimes turned the most patriarchal elements of Shari‘a law to their advantage in order to achieve their personal and marital aims. I was sensitive to this in part because it was exactly what I had managed to do myself some years earlier when my own marriage broke down.
(posted by Iman)

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