Women, Faith & Justice: Framing an Islamic Approach to Gender & Development

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Author: Dr Laura Zahra McDonald
Country: International
Category: Gender

For activists and NGOs engaging in the field of development, human rights and justice, the role of religion – Islam and others – in transforming the beliefs and lived realities of people at the grassroots is often viewed as obstructive and limiting. Religion is considered from the outside, and indeed often used by believers, as a reference and framework with which to resist notions of gender equality and female emancipation. Activists, practitioners and academics have articulated many examples, especially in relation to Muslim populations, where Islam is often used as an explanation – or a justification – for violence and discrimination against women. For those working towards justice in these contexts, such simplistic and essentialised narratives are unhelpful. For progress in many contexts, reductionist assumptions such as ‘Islam is patriarchy’ or ‘Islam is emancipation’ are not helpful. Rather, a deep, nuanced and honest analysis of the diversity of Islamic interpretation and Muslim practice is necessary to fully engage and satisfy communities and practitioners both in policy and practice.

The study engages with several types of source: the key Islamic texts of Qur’an and Ahadith; the associated Maqasid al-Shari’ah; the body of scholarship associated with Ijtihad and the development of Fiqh; Muslim practice and the intersecting factors that create such diversity including culture, social change and politics; the critiques and questions of scholars and activists consulted during the research process; and the intersection of theology with national law and international law, especially the conventions of equality and justice as defined through CEDAW. For Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), understanding the intersection of these perspectives is of fundamental import, operating as it does in the most challenging of circumstances, while satisfying the scrutiny of governments, international human rights organisations and the populations that it serves. By synthesising the discussions, this study thus aims to draw out an Islamic-inspired framework through which key issues of gender justice and development may be addressed in the diverse contexts in which IRW serves.

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