* This paper inevitably draws on my previous writing on the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws, especially ‘Controlled or autonomous: identity and the experience of the network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Volume 19, Number 4, 1994, pp 997-1019. Moreover, the analysis presented owes much to the women linked through the network. Any idiosyncrasies, however, are obviously my own.
Who is to say if the key that unlocks the cage might not lie hidden inside the cage?1
If justice and fairness are inherent to Islam - as fuqaha claim and all Muslims believe - should not these virtues be reflected in the ‘Islamic’ laws that regulate the relations between men and women as well as their respective rights? Why have women been treated as second-class citizens in the fiqh books that have come to define the terms of the Shari’a?
The first part of the strange title of this article originates in a personal experience. In 1962, after a seven-year bloody war, which made two million victims, Algeria became independent from French colonisation. Shortly after independence, some of us were being introduced, as ‘Algerians’, to some left intellectuals in Paris who had been in favour of our liberation movement.
Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is a collective of South Asian women.1 We operate an advice, resource, and campaigning centre for women in Southall, an area in west London with a large South Asian population. In comparison with many other Asian communities in this country, Southall is heterogeneous and has a cosmopolitan feel to it. All religions and ethnic groups of the Indian Subcontinent are present there, although the Punjabi Sikh ethnic group and religion are dominant.
Despite the extensive literature on nationalism, there are relatively few systematic attempts to analyse women’s integration into nationalist projects. The few there are convey seemingly contradictory messages. Like Jayawardena, those who link the rise of feminist movements to anti-colonial and nationalist struggles note its coincidence with a move towards secularism and a broader concern with social reform.1 Nationalist aspirations for popular sovereignty stimulate an extension of citizenship rights, clearly benefiting women.
Marieme Hélie-Lucas Founder and former international coordinator of WLUML
Algerian sociologist, mother of four, born in Algiers 1939 to a family of feminists. Active in the liberation struggle of Algeria. Taught epistemology and methodology in the social sciences in Algiers University before founding WLUML.
Deniz Kandiyoti Reader in the Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies and Chair of the Center of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus, University of London, UK
This volume seeks to address issues of concern to women in Muslim countries and communities around the concepts of identity, politics, movements, and alliances. Crucial to identity politics is the fraught question of alliances: all the articles, ultimately, address this question.
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In much of the Muslim world, women's lack of knowledge about statutory provisions and about the sources of customs and practices applied in their immediate community obstructs their ability to change their circumstances. This understanding was the basis for the Women & Law in the Muslim World Programme of the international solidarity network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML).
Control of women’s sexuality remains to be one of the most powerful tools of patriarchy in most societies. The essays in this volume show that the sexual oppression of Muslim women is not the result of an ‘Islamic’ vision of sexuality, but a combination of political, social and economic inequalities throughout the ages.