Women, liberties and rights in Islam

Women, liberties and rights in Islam

28 Thursday
From Thu, 28/03/2019 to Fri, 29/03/2019

9am - 6pm




Organized by the Triangle / ENS Lyon laboratory, and the Orient Mont Pelerin Foundation of Geneva (http://orientmontpelerin.ch/)/Iqbal research workshop (https://iqbal.hypotheses.org/), the international conference « Women , liberties and rights in Islam « aims to treat a subject of a constantly renewed topicality. It is fully echoing the interactions between religion and society, law and politics, hermeneutics of sacred texts and human values. The question comes back in a nagging way on the socio-political level, and, beyond its media treatment, there is a real demand for fundamental and elaborated knowledge on the question of the status of women in Islam at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The condition of the woman provides indeed a precise index of the situation of a given society. Around the world, demographic and economic data, indices of human and cultural development show that, where the condition of women is improving, it also contributes, almost mechanically, to the promotion of society as a whole.

Around citizenship and the most recent work on the theme of gender, the conference will combine theoretical reflections and reports of developments in progress in several societies of the Islamic world. The theoretical effort  will be to analyze the nature and level of the relationship between prescriptions and proscriptions of a religious nature and contemporary sociological realities. From there, participants will identify experiences of redefining the status of women and combating gender oppression. The focus will be on contemporary religious debates  as well as on the role of religion in the struggle for the liberation and citizenship of women.

Devoting a whole meeting to the proposed theme will  allow producing scientific presentations and exchanges on a subject that is generally misunderstood or too often demagogically treated. It would also be an opportunity to master, within the French and European academic scene, critical and informed reflection on the issue of gender in Islam and to reveal to the public the recent work of many researchers in the Islamic world.  In this context, it is a question of showing that this subject is not a specifically Western or European-centric consideration, but rather a concern for the men and women engaged in the university or in the associative world through different experiences and in various countries where the question of change in terms of  rights, social and political positions, and even behavior and mentalities related to women are raised.

Addressing the subject adequately presupposes first avoiding two difficulties. On the one hand, as soon as the question of the woman is posed, one is immediately confronted with an apologetic reflex that seeks systematically to show the innovating aspect, foreseeing and protecting the legal-religious prescriptions stated in the seventh century. Given the social backwardness of law and gender equality, rather than invoking cultural relativism, this approach will highlight the fact that the Qur’an, its exegetes and legal scholars (fuqahâ ‘) were always in advance on historical time. However, this discourse only rehashes a conservative literature, and ignores the historical changes that have affected the different societies that ultimately have little to do with those of seventh-century Arabia. . The other difficulty, just as immediately apparent, lies in the systematic Western criticism of a law judged archaic, obsolete, and unfit to evolve.

This last criticism shows that socially advanced societies tend to repress the fact that women’s emancipation is quite recent (right to vote, mixed work, voluntary abortion). Reflecting on the question of the Arab or Muslim woman, her liberties and her rights in the twenty-first century, make it necessary to walk along a difficult ridge to avoid these two pitfalls. This is the path, practiced by a certain number of participating researchers, authors and observers, that will be adopted  during this international conference.

It is now accepted that the sociological reality is no longer comparable to the situation that prevailed in late antiquity or the early Middle Ages. Even though, referring to a tradition that is sacred or considered as such, exerts a deep influence on contemporary societies. Inspiration from the past is a feature of several discourses constructed about reform in Islam, but it is also a postmodern rhetorical stance: its effectiveness is to work towards a reconstructive mytho-genesis of identity through return to a scrupulous and rigorous practice to imitate the « pious ancestors » (that is, the very first generations of Muslims). To go beyond this reconstitution of identity, and not be trapped in ways of thinking or arguments of another age, the speakers will attempt to address a number of issues that are at the heart of contemporary citizenship. Rather than considering religious texts as immutable writings in the production of legal and social norms, it will be necessary to consider how to make them evolve on aspects related to equality before the civil law, to public life, the cultural specificities of nations as well as changing era.

Combining the approach of very old texts and  contemporary ones, the interventions are not only theoretical but also contain case studies that will focus on the historical realities and concrete situations revealing emancipation and liberation as observed in different countries, from Senegal to India. Just recently, two states remind us of the practical consequences of these questions. In Tunisia for example, a debate has just been launched on the initiative of the Head of State to apply in the field of inheritance a principle embedded in the Constitution, and stating the equality of rights and duties between men and women. Recall that in traditional Muslim law, there is a question of a legal inequality that attributes to man the double of the share of the woman in inheritance. The same approach led to a reflection on the decriminalization of Tunisian women’s marriage with a non-Muslim, a point that the European Council of Ulema has just challenged by positioning itself to maintain the consensus of clerics established for several centuries. Similarly, in India, the parliament banned in August 2017 the practice known as triple talaq, a form of irrevocable divorce practiced by the man. This custom led to immediate repudiations exposing Indian Muslim women to various forms of arbitrariness and discrimination. The legislative change shows the presence of a fight for the defense of women’s rights, and the fight against the various forms of injustice and precariousness.

Themes of the conference

I. Sociology of gender and Islamic feminism

 Heirs of postcolonial thought which he claims strongly, Islamic feminism has developed many lines of thought on how to be modern, without necessarily reproducing the image that the West wanted to give the status of Muslim women during the colonial era and beyond. This rejection of hegemonic knowledge with a certain claim to universal normativity has produced many arguments in favor of improving the condition of the Muslim woman, mainly articulated around the question of her freedom and dignity. Despite their diversity, the currents of Islamic feminism have fallen repeatedly in relativistic discourses, thus justifying attitudes or behaviors that are supposed to embody a religious norm, while they may constitute a limitation of freedoms and rights. How then to envisage a discourse that is not locked in the questions of identity, and the constitution of new norms that can truly embody the values of freedom and equality in the spaces dominated by the cultures of Islam.

II. Women between law and theology

This theme is dedicated to Qur’anic and Shari’a statements concerning the individual freedom and status of women. Some scholars believe that Islam has ushered in a new era for women, but stick to the transformations that have taken place several centuries ago, falling into the double pitfall of apology and anachronism, while others believe that religion in Islam today functions as an « ancient servitude » (Spinoza) in which women are suffering a state of social, legal and political subordination. While addressing these aspects, this axis also explores new hermeneutical avenues to otherwise understand the statements of the sacred text or to better contextualize the issues. If, by definition, the subject of law changes and expands over time, the question that arises in this century of explosion of knowledge, is whether Shari’a is a "path" or a "law" susceptible of dynamic evolution.

III. Case studies

Talking about Arab or Muslim women in general can be misleading  as the status of women differs from country to country and according to national or regional traditions. Sometimes, within the same country, oppositions between rurality and urbanity, center and periphery, are more relevant to sociologists because they affect these statutes much more than simple generalities formulated about Arab culture or that of the Islam. The case study is thus salutary to guard against essentialist visions, and to see concretely how the condition could evolve or regress in contemporary times. How do women today suffer, assume or transform their status from one country to another, depending on whether they live in Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco or India? This is the question that will guide the interventions included in this axis, and that will lead to obtain a precise image of the decisive evolutions brought by the States and the citizens concerned by such changes.



  • Ababsa, Myriam
  • Abbès Makram
  • Aboudrar, Bruno-Nassim
  • Baba Ahmed, Mariem
  • Béji, Hélé
  • Benkirane, Réda
  • Bessis, Sophie
  • Chafiq, Chahla
  • Ghaziri, Hassan
  • Hachim, Mouna
  • Hajji, Iman
  • Hussein, Hasna
  • Lamrabet, Asma
  • Moreno al Ajamî, Cyrille
  • Soman, Zakia
  • Tauil, Leïla