“Accidental Islamic Feminism: Dialogical approaches to Muslim Women’s Inheritance Rights”

Islamic inheritance regimes in the Muslim world continue to beguile advocates and feminists, non-Muslim and Muslim alike. One single characteristic, that women inherit far less property than men under Islamic inheritance arrangements, has for long been utilized as marker, in the West, for a perceived lack of gender equality. However the complexity and sensitivity of inheritance practices among Muslims has rarely been directly engaged. This chapter is concerned with developing such an engagement, for very pragmatic reasons. Within the context of global land reform programmes, concerns have been expressed with the extent to which such programmes not only ‘fit’ specific sites, but also the impact they (might) have on less economically powerful groups. However, implicit within the support for such strategies is a presumption that they can, or could, be a tool for empowering groups who have been excluded or marginalized within traditional land holding patterns. Thus, for some, the use of westernized land reform programmes might seem to hold the potential for emancipating women from such disadvantages as the perceived inequalities of Islamic inheritance law and practices. This chapter, however, challenges such an approach by asking two questions which have rarely been articulated. First, to what extent is it correct to use the marker of inequality in Islamic inheritance law and practices to be indicative of a fundamental lack of gender equality? Second, to what extent is it correct to presume that tools for emancipation are only available through the importation of westernized jurisprudence rather than through the development of Islamic jurisprudence? These questions are crucial within an overall assessment of the potential for land reform programmes which follow a westernized model within the specific context of Muslim societies.
Sait, Siraj and Lim H.
Source publication: 
In H. Lim and A. Bottomley (eds),Feminist Perspectives on Land Law. Glasshouse Press 133-157