Musawah has undertaken a groundbreaking, multi-faceted knowledge building initiative on male authority in Muslim legal tradition.
The five-year Knowledge Building Initiative on Qiwamah and Wilayah focuses on the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah, which are commonly understood as sanctioning men’s authority over women. As interpreted and constructed in Muslim legal tradition, and as applied in modern laws and practices, these concepts play a central role in institutionalising, justifying and sustaining a patriarchal model of families in Muslim contexts. In Muslim legal tradition, marriage presumes an exchange: the wife’s obedience and submission (tamkin) in return for maintenance (nafaqah) and protection from the husband.
This theoretical relationship, which still underlies many family law provisions in our contexts as Muslims today, results in inequality in matters such as financial security, right to divorce, custody and guardianship, choice and consent in marriage, sexual and reproductive health and rights, inheritance and nationality laws.
This inequality is at odds with the underlying ethical principles of Islamic as articulated in the Qur’an. It also clashes with contemporary notions of Islamic and human rights principles, and with the reality that men are often unable or unwilling to protect and provide for their families.
It’s time to recognise that women often serve as the providers for and protectors of their families.
In order to campaign and advocate for laws and practices that promote equality and justice in Muslim families, we need new knowledge and perspectives on qiwamah and wilayah.
This initiative seeks to show how laws based on outdated interpretations of these concepts, which place women under male authority, no longer reflect the justice of Islam. Other interpretations are both possible and more in line with human rights principles and contemporary lived realities.
A set of background papers commissioned for this initiative has been published as Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition, edited by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mulki Al-Sharmani and Jana Rumminger (OneWorld 2015).
Through the Global Life Stories Project component of the initiative, teams of researchers and activists in 10 countries (Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, and the United Kingdom) have been documenting women’s life stories to better understand women’s experiences with qiwamah and wilayah. The methodology and some initial findings are presented in a chapter of Men in Charge?