Professor Shaheen Ali & Natasha Latiff (Law)
Introduction: A learning experience
My name is Natasha Latiff. I am a 3rd year undergraduate student of Law and student of Professor Shaheen Ali. For many years I have been exceptionally interested in women’s rights in Islamic law, in
particular those under the law of Afghanistan. This keen interest compelled me to chart out my plans for the future to become a legal academic and women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. I am currently
running a gender-related legal research project (Warwick pro bono and student society) in collaboration with the Afghan Women’s Network in Afghanistan. You will see how my involvement in the
URSS scheme has assisted in both the development of my resource base on gender in Islam and on how to run a research project, how to execute effective research and how to assess research produced.
Due to the unfortunate fate of 3 decades of war, a defragmented society, collapsed infrastructure and defunct legal system, the body of knowledge and research in Afghanistan currently remains primarily
inadequate. As an aspiring academic and activist, my work in Afghanistan requires effective research into the problems faced by women in Afghanistan, inequalities within the Afghan law and most
importantly gender-neutral interpretations of Islamic law. We are witnessing a surge of women’s rights institutions and civil societies in Afghanistan performing detailed study into Islamic law, legal
traditions and history to extract out a gender-neutral framework of Islamic law in order to lobby reforms in Afghan legislation and attitudes towards women. Through my research into Islamic Criminal
Justice (a subject not covered in the law school’s programmes), I will develop a body of work which I and women’s organisatio ns in Afghanistan can then use in our expository and discussions
concerning Gender in Islamic law.
Professor Shaheen Ali is currently developing resources for the Islamic Law Curriculum Development Project. The project team is developing a bibliography and other resources for teachers and
students of Islamic law. This will take the form as manuals for teaching and learning, divided into topics such as ‘Islamic Criminal Law’, ‘Islamic International Law’ and others. As mentioned above,
Afghanistan suffers from a huge deficit in knowledge and research. Therefore the resources available to them are highly inadequate and inaccessible. Professor Shaheen mentioned such a deficit even in
Europe. Where variants of Islamic law are followed by an astounding 1/5 of the world’s population, still there are very few resources that educational institutions have available to them to teach Islamic
law in a critical and analytical approach; an approach that is much required today, but not yet present in many Muslim- majority jurisdictions. As part of the team, I developed a bibliography of useful
articles for the Islamic Criminal Justice project. I also researched on process of how Islamic law came to be law, and how women were largely left out the process of making, collecting and consolidating
Islamic law culminating in a series of dominant and gender-bias set of laws that are practiced in variant forms across the Muslim world. The bibliography that I developed showcased the diversity of
approaches to Islamic law adopted by scholars. It is within this spirit of diversity and richness that I see a huge potential in developing resources on gender-neutral interpretations of Islamic law that can
serve as reference points for organisations in Afghanistan that I work with to lobby the government, civil societies, and the Afghan society to embrace a more gender-neutral Islam.
The project has not ended. I have yet to consolidate resources on Gender in Islamic Criminal justice. To date, I have researched on Gender in Islamic legal history as well developed a bibliography and
abstracts of resources on Islamic Criminal Justice. I also prepared the recommendations voiced by scholars on the research (manuals) produced by Professor Shaheen’s team during the Islamic Law
Curriculum Development Workshop. Though I am still in the process of this project, I have learnt as much about the process of research as I have on the substantive issues in Islamic criminal justice. As (Muaviyah b. Haidah) said, 'O Apostle of God! What is my duty to my wife?' He said, 'That you give her to eat as
part of the project, I attended the 2nd International Islamic Law Curriculum Development Workshop on the 3 rd and 4th of July. This workshop was the hallmark of this URSS scheme. Though in law you eat yourself, and clothe her as you clothe yourself; and do not slap her in the face nor abuse her, nor
school, I learn to some extent the process of handling bulk information, sieving out the irrelevant information, reading techniques etc, during this URSS scheme, I had to ask myself after the research is separate yourself from her in displeasure.”
completed, what next? In law school, it would just be an essay. Once the essay was handed in, it was filed away forever. In this event, it was different. I saw scholars and academics coming together to
discuss the content and cosmetics of the manuals that were produced. Recommendations for change were discussed and noted down. These manuals will have to go through the process of continuous
scrutiny and re-drafting. The inclusiveness of the approach of Professor Shaheen and the team also gave a new meaning of the word ‘research’ to me. I now understand research as being a process of first
individual discovery through self effort but more importantly, secondly, discussing and sharing the research produced with my peers. If any research were to attain a practical beneficial outcome to
society, it has to be a concerted group effort for a society does not consist of just the individual. The feedback and ideas of individuals, even those with different opinions and stakes from me, has to be
obtained and included or at least considered in the research content and process. When research pushes those boundaries then the outcome of the research (based in the context of my interest in this
project) becomes practical and beneficial to the society I intend to address. I am running a research project myself on Gender in Islam for Afghan women and human rights’ organisations at Warwick
University. Having gone through the URSS scheme with Professor Shaheen’s project, I now have a blueprint of how I will assess my research with the rest in my team and stakeholders to my project in
Prophet Muhammad , “The rights of women are sacred. See that women are maintained in
the rights assigned to them.”
Prophet Muhammad - “He is the most perfect Muslim whose disposition is best; and the best
of you are they who behave best to their wives.”
Researching articles on Islamic Criminal Justice
Sorting out sections of articles into topics
Islamic Criminal Law is a broad set of law that encompasses what defines criminal responsibility to the specific actus reus and mens rea of each crime, punishments (Hudud – punishment that set out by God in the Quran and discretionary punishment
called ta’zir which is a punishment decided by state discretion), evidence in criminal cases and lastly criminal justice in contemporary Muslim jurisdictions (Pakistan and Nigeria). Within these headings, there are also sub headings. There are many articles
on Islamic Criminal Justice and unfortunately they are not all set neatly out according to these topics. My task was to read these articles and fit sections of these articles into the appropriate topics mentioned above. For this I had to employ reading
techniques and skills.
Skimming means looking for general and main ideas, and important points in a reading. Understanding the structure or the three parts of the standard academic essay can help one know where to find these ideas quickly.
Look for the general and main ideas in the introduction and conclusion paragraphs.
Use a highlighter or a pencil to highlight or underline these ideas, so that they are easily retrieved later.
The messenger of God said: Look for important points stated in topic sentences that are provided in each body paragraph
"The most perfect in faith amongst believers is he who is best in manner and
kindest to his wife." Scanning means looking for supporting points and details, provided in body paragraphs; finding elaborations or sentences including detailed and specific information that support an important point or a topic sentence in a body paragraph.
There are various types of supporting details, including examples, statistics, expert opinions, quotes, and explanations.
Annotate the text. Underlining or highlighting passages and making written notes in the margins of texts help to identify the most important ideas, the main examples or details, and the things that trigger certain reactions. I have three objectives to meet; to
identify the author’s most important points, to recognize how they fit together, and to note how I respond to them.
Writing out abstracts for each article
Sharing session for feedback on research produced (in the form of manuals)
The 2nd International Islamic Law Curriculum Development Project Workshop was held at the University of Warwick on the 3rd and 4th of July. The session was a pivotal part of my learning experience. It was a gathering of about 60 scholars and students.
The purpose of the workshop was to scrutinise evaluate and provide productive feedback on the manuals produced by the team. This was one step further to the research work I was more familiar with. In order for the product (the outcome of the research)
to be of benefit to the target audience, the opinions of others had to be consulted. The way the session was arranged was extremely conducive to the evaluation process. See below:
First a powerpoint presentation was given on a particular topic (Sources of Islamic law). It was followed by a panel discussion and question and answer session led by specific scholars who had beforehand reviewed the manuals and prepared comments on
them. These comments were voiced and others present could agree, disagree or develop those comments further.
On the 4th of July, an advisory session commenced to re-iterate and consolidate the changes recommended by attendants about the manuals. I noted down these recommendations.
Preparing the list of recommendations to changes in the manuals for Professor Shaheen’s team.
Preliminary Substantive Findings
How Islamic law came to be law & the origins of gender bias: processes, influences, and authority
1. Inheriting the norms of conquered lands 2. Shaping Islamic Law through selective process and interpretations
By the 5th and 6th C.E societies of the Mediterranean Middle East essentially comprised of Christian and Jewish populations. Like the societies of the Mesopotamian region, the Elizabeth Fox-Genovese once said, ‘All writers are hostage to the society in which they live.’
societies of the Mediterranean Middle East have a history long predating the rise of Christianity. In fact, Christianity, like Islam, inherited the diversity of cultures and practices The men during the Abbasid age creating texts internalised society’s assumptions about gender and women and the structures of power
that existed prior to its coming. governing the relations between the sexes and this was inscribed in the texts which they wrote. Women were not, by this time, creators of
Islamic texts in the way that they were in the first Islamic age, when they were among the authors of verbal texts, later written down by men
Greek society, the most direct antecedent of the Christian Byzantine society had a well-developed system of male dominance. For instance, free women in Athens during the (Hadith). The practices and assumptions regarding women that informed the social and psychological reality of Abbasid writers – theologians,
Classical Period (500-323 B.C.E) were ‘secluded so they could not be seen by men who were not close relatives. Men and women led separate lives, men spending most of their legists, and philosophers reappeared in their texts as the prisms through which they viewed and understood women and gender. The texts the
days in public areas like the marketplace and gymnasium, while respectable women stayed at home. Sexes were segregated in separate quarters with women inhabiting the men of this period created are regarded as the core prescriptive texts of Islam. The mores of the elite and the realities of social life and their
rooms away from the street and public area of the house’. The qualities admired in girls were silence and submissiveness. Aristotle also conceptualised women not merely as implications for the definition of ‘woman’ could not have failed to form the ideology of the day, thus determining how early Islamic texts were
subordinate by social necessity but also innately and biologically inferior in both mental and physical capacities; ‘women being as it were an impotent male, for it is through a heard and interpreted and how their broad principles were rendered into law. But these religiously dominant interpretations did not necessarily
certain incapacity that the female is female.’ Aristotle’s influence was widespread and enduring. His theories in effect codified and systematized the social values and command everyone’s consent. Some groups such as the Khawarij rejected elements of the dominant ideology. The Sufis and Qarmatians also
practises of that society. They were presented as objective scientific observations and were receiving by both Arab and Europe civilisations as the articulation of dissented
scientific verities. The problems of interpretation and of the biases and assumptions that the Abbasid age brought to its readings and rendering of a text is
pertinent to all the central texts of Islam. The orthodox account of the process is that a complete written text was made after Prophet
There are parallels between Byzantium and Islamic legal thought. For instance, both laws limited a woman’s right to testify on even matters relating directly to women, such as Muhammad’s death, in the reign of the first caliph Abu Bakr, and the authoritative version was established during the reign of the 3rd Caliph,
childbirth. The laws that took shape under Islam in the centuries immediately after the Muslim conquest, far from bringing an improvement for women it constituted a Uthman. A dispute between Syrian and Iraqi troops to the correct recitation of the Quran prompted the compilation of a single authorized
lamentable regression for women. In effect, Islam continued a restrictive trend already established by societies that existed before conquest. At the time politically dominant version. Uthman obtained Hafsa’s collection and commissioned four prominent Meccans to make a copy following the dialect of the Quraysh.
Christianity continued patriarchal ideas of its originary Judaism. Judaism in the period preceding and around the time of the rise of Christianity permitted polygamy, Then he sent copies to the major capitals and ordered for all other versions to be destroyed. The final fully vocalised version was established in
concubinage, and unrestricted divorce for men. They did not allow women to inherit or to play a role in religion. Some of these mores were accepted by Christianity whilst the tenth century.
others like polygamy were not. Some Quranic scholars have speculated that the Quran may not be in the Quraysh dialect. In addition, it has been suggested that the process by
which Muahmmad’s recitation were transformed from oral materials into written texts was not as seamless as orthodox accounts declare. For
Islamic reforms apparently consolidated a trend toward patriliny in 6 th Century Arabia and particularly in Mecca, where as a result of commercial expansion, the entire fabric of one thing, there were a number of different versions that were in circulation at the time of the compiling of the canonical version. The physical
old nomadic order was undergoing change. In addition to internal economic change, external influences no doubt played some part in transforming the culture. The infiltration transcription of a text in this place and period was also very difficult. Not only were rough materials such as animal shoulder blades used to
of Iranian influences among the tribes of northern Arabia along with Meccan trade linking Syria and the Byzantine Empire to the north with Yemen and Ethiopia to the south, write down Quranic verses during the Prophet’s lifetime but the letters in Arabic used at this point were incomplete. The dots necessary to
meant increasing contact with and exposure to the social organisation of gender in these neighbouring societies. distinguish between the consonants were lacking so that in a group of consonants two or more readings were possible. In the face of many
readings, the legists of the day were already choosing meanings from the perspective of their own environment, perhaps profoundly different
from those connoted by the same phrases in the early Muslim environment. Authority and power closely bound to elite during the Abbasid
period depended on claiming a monopoly over the truth and declaring its version of Islam to be absolute and forever binding. All other
interpretations were regarded as heretical.
Various interpretations of the Islamic vision deviated from orthodox interpretations at the time. The Qarmatian movement and some of the
varieties of the Sufi movement were persecuted as heretical until the former was entirely eradicated; Qarmatians writings do not exist anymore.
These movements for instance prohibited polygamy and child marriages. They emphasized on the spiritual, ethical and social teachings of
Islam and that the regulations that Prophet Muhammad placed into society were ephemeral, pertaining to the time and location. A number of
Sufi elements also suggest that Sufi ethos countered that of the dominant society with respect also to views on women. From early on, its
proponents counted women among the important contributors to their tradition and among the greatest of spiritual leaders.
Islam’s emphasis on equality and equal justice had left little trace on the law developed in the Abbasid age. Indeed, had it been heeded, it would
have tempered the extreme androcentric bias of the law and we might today have a far more humane and egalitarian law regarding women.
Quranic precepts consist of mainly broad propositions of an ethical nature rather than specific legalistic formulations. Some dissenting sects
understood Islam’s ethical teaching to be the fundamentals of its message and regarded Muhammad’s regulations relevant primar ily to the
immediate social context and thus not necessarily binding (as orthodoxy considered them to be).