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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 11, 2014

Women’s Rights in Islamic Shari’a: Between Interpretation, Culture and Politics

Dina Mansour

Abstract

This article analyses existing biases – whether due to misinterpretation, culture or politics – in the application of women’s rights under Islamic Shari’a law. The paper argues that though in its inception, one purpose of Islamic law may have aimed at elevating the status of women in pre-Islamic Arabia, biases in interpreting such teachings have failed to free women from discrimination and have even added “divinity” to their persistent subjugation. By examining two case studies – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – the article shows that interpretative biases that differ in application from one country to the other further subject women to the selective application of rights. Dictated by norms, culture and tradition rather than a unified Islamic law, the paper shows how culture and politics have contributed to such biases under the pre-text of Islamic dictate. As such, it proposes a re-examination of “personal status” laws across the region in light of international human rights norms.

Acknowledgements

I am particularly grateful to Cameron Thibos of the European University Institute (EUI), whose comments and edits greatly improved this paper. I am also grateful to Sebastian Ille of the Lebanese American University (LAU) for his helpful comments and to Lana Baydas for her support in the initial phase of this article.

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Published Online: 2014-11-11
Published in Print: 2014-1-1

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