The Asymmetrical Representation of Gender in Islamic Family Law

  • Nahda ShehadaEmail author


Family law in all cultures and legal systems is fraught with difficulty for women. Nahda Shehada addresses this issue from the perspective of Islamic family law, women’s rights and the imbalance for women when pursuing custody, access, property division and divorce. She looks at guardianship (of wives and daughters), marriage age, dower, maintenance ‘versus obedience’, ‘house of obedience’ (whereby husbands are obliged to maintain their wives only if their wives ‘obey’ them), polygyny, divorce, custody (of children) and inheritance. She addresses these aspects of sharia law in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region generally, referring particularly to Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and Gaza. In referencing arguments to end dower as symbolising and materialising commodification of women’s sexual organs, yet the conflicting need for women to retain some financial support and independence, Shehada highlights the dilemma facing feminists in the struggle for reforms aiming to gain women equal rights under the law.


Gaza Strip Personal Status Legal Reform Sexual Division Discriminatory Measure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abel, R. L. (1978). Comparative law and social theory. American Journal of Comparative Law, 26(2), 219–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anleu, S. L. R. (2000). Law and social change. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Bachrach, P., & Baratz, M. S. (1970). Power and poverty: theory and practice. New York: OUP.Google Scholar
  4. Botiveau, B. (1997). Al-sharī‘a al-islāmiyya wa al-qānūn fī al-mujtama‘āt al-‘arabiyya [The Islamic Shari’a and law in Arab societies]. Cairo, Egypt: Sienna.Google Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. (1987). The force of law: toward a sociology of juridical field. Hastings Law Journal, 38, 814–853.Google Scholar
  6. Celis, K., Kantola, J., Waylen, G., Weldon, S. L. (2013). Introduction: gender and politics in a gendered world, a gendered discipline. In G. Waylen. In K. Celis, J. Kantola, & S. Laurel Weldon (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of gender and politics (pp. 1–19). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Crenson, M. A. (1971). The un-politics of air pollution: a study of non-decision-making in the cities. Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Davidson, L., & Gordon, K. (1979). The sociology of gender. Chicago: Rand MacNally College.Google Scholar
  9. Dupret, B., & Voorhoeve, M. (2012). Introduction. In M. Voorhoeve (Ed.), Family law in Islam: divorce, marriage and women in the Muslim world (vol. 4, pp. 1–13). London: IB Tauris.Google Scholar
  10. Fraser, N. (1997). Justice Interruptus. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Frohmann, L., & Mertz, E. (1994). Legal reform and social construction: violence, gender and the law. Law and Social Inquiry, 19, 829–851.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gali, M. (1999). Choice and power: a discussion of early marriage in the Gaza strip. Gaza: Women’s Affairs Centre.Google Scholar
  13. Hammami, R., & Johnson, P. (1999). Equality with a difference: gender and citizenship in transitional Palestine. Social Politics, 6(3), 315–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Handler, J. F. (1978). Social movements and the legal system: a theory of law reform and social change. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  15. Htun, M., & Weldon, L. (2010). When do governments promote women’s rights? A framework for the comparative analysis of sex equality policy. Perspectives on Politics, 8(1), 207–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jamal, A. (2001). Engendering state-building: the women’s movement in Palestine. The Middle East Journal, 55(2), 256–277.Google Scholar
  17. Johnson, P. (2004). Agents for reform: the women’s movement, social politics and family law reform. In L. Welchman (Ed.), Women’s rights & Islamic family law: perspectives for reform. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  18. Kessler, M. (1990). Legal mobilisation for social reform: power and the politics of agenda setting. Law & Society Review, 24(1), 121–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lazreg, M. (2000). Citizenship and gender in Algeria. Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, 58, 66.Google Scholar
  20. Maier, S. L. (2008). ‘I have heard horrible stories…’ rape victim advocates’ perceptions of the revictimization of rape victims by the police and medical system. Violence against Women, 14(7), 786–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marshall, G. (1998). Dictionary of sociology. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  22. Scheingold, S.A. (1974). The Politics of Rights. Lawyers, Public Policy and Political Change. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Shehada, N. (2004a). Women’s experience in the Shari’a court of Gaza city: the multiple meanings of maintenance. Review of Women’s Studies, 2, 57–71.Google Scholar
  24. Shehada, N. (2004b). Uncodified justice: women negotiating family law and customary practice in Palestine. Development, 47(1), 103–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shehada, N. (2005). Justice without drama: enacting family law in Gaza city Shariʻa court. The Hague: Shaker.Google Scholar
  26. Shehada, N. (2008). Between change and continuity: age and marriage trends in Gaza. Hawwa, 6(3), 315–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shehada, N. (2009a). Negotiating custody rights in Islamic family law. In T. G. Kirsch and B Turner (Eds.), Permutations of order: religion and law as contested sovereignties. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  28. Shehada, N. (2009b). Flexibility versus rigidity in the practice of Islamic x family law. Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 32(1), 28–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shehada, N. (2009c). House of obedience social norms, individual agency, and historical contingency. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 5(1), 24–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shehada, N. (2013). Debating Islamic family law in Palestine: citizenship, gender and Islamic idioms. In M. Al-Sharmani (Ed.), Feminist activism, women’s rights and legal reform. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  31. Singh, I. P. (1989). Women, law and social change in India. London: Sangam Books.Google Scholar
  32. Smart, C. (1986). Feminism and law: some problems of analysis and strategy. International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 14, 109–123.Google Scholar
  33. Smart, C. (1989). Feminism and the power of law. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Weedon, C. (1987). Feminist practice and poststructuralist theory. New York: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  35. Welchman, L. (1999). Islamic family law: text and practice in Palestine. Jerusalem: WCLAC.Google Scholar
  36. Welchman, L. (2000). Beyond the code: Muslim family law and the Shar’i judiciary in the Palestinian West Bank. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.Google Scholar
  37. Welchman, L. (2007). Women and Muslim family laws in Arab States: a comparative overview of textual development and advocacy. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar


    Jordan and part of Palestine (the West Bank)

    1. JLFR. (1951). The law of family rights, Law No. 92/1951 (Official Gazette No. 1081 of 16October 1951).Google Scholar
    2. JLPS. (1976). The law of personal status, Temporary Law No. 61/1976 (Official Gazette No. 2668 of 1 December 1976).Google Scholar

Gaza (part of Palestine)

  1. LFR. (1954). ‘Qanun huquq al-‘a’ila’ (Law of family rights) regulated by the Egyptian Governor General of Gaza Strip by order number 303 (special official Gazette of 22May 1965), in Dahduh et al., 1996, 108–122.Google Scholar


  1. Law no. 188/1959, Law of Personal Status (Official Gazette No. 280 of 30 December 1959).Google Scholar
  2. Law no. 21/1978, Second amendment to the law of personal status (Official Gazette 2639 of 20 February 1978).Google Scholar


  1. Law no. 51/1984 as amended by law no. 29/2004.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Institute of Social Studies-Erasmus UniversityThe HagueThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations