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The Construction Of Gender in Islamic Legal Thought and Strategies for Reform

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This paper explores ways in which women can pursue and achieve equality and justice in Islamic law. It begins by examining constructions of gender rights in Islamic legal thought, with a view to identifying both the legal theories and assumptions that inform them, and concludes by exploring the kinds of strategies for reform that are needed to reflect the spirit of the age. I argue that, broadly speaking, Islamic legal thought contains three distinct discourses on gender rights. While the first two are premised on various forms of inequality between the sexes, the third argues for equality. The first, which is the discourse of the classical sharī'a texts, I call Traditionalist. The second, which developed in the early part of the twentieth century and is reflected in the modern legal codes in Muslim countries, I call Neo-Traditionalist—though it is commonly referred to as Modernist. The third, which I call Reformist, emerged in the last two decades and is still in the process of formation. It is within this discourse that gender equality in law can be achieved.


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