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  • Shannon Dunn (a1)

Three recent books focused on law, gender, and Islam not only make important individual contributions to the field of law and religion, but together, in their attention to issues of gender, sex, violence, and law, signal an important development in both this field and the field of Islamic studies. This state of the field essay examines Kecia Ali's revised and expanded edition of Sexual Ethics and Islam, Ayesha Chaudhry's Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, and Hina Azam's Sexual Violation in Islamic Law. Individually and collectively, these works shed light on the way that societies use gender as a fundamental tool of social organization and hierarchy. While Ali, Chaudhry, and Azam focus mainly on the classical Sunni Islamic tradition, their insight has wider methodological import for the study of law and religion. Further, they illuminate the intellectual diversity within the Islamic tradition, both in the past and in the present. In doing so, they draw attention to the process of how the intellectual tradition is retrieved and appropriated in contemporary contexts. Finally, their work is historical and descriptive as well as normative: this kind of scholarship challenges the distinction in the study of religion between these two categories. Ali, Chaudhry, and Azam each places her observations and arguments about classical Sunni Islamic texts and traditions in productive conversation with ethical and legal questions that Muslims face today.

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1 I recognize that the term feminist has many connotations. Here, I use the idea of a “Muslim feminist” to signal a commitment to gender reform in the tradition through scholarship and activism. But I am not suggesting that all Muslim feminists have the same goals as a group or share the same assumptions and aims as Western liberal feminists, for example. The main reason for this choice is to keep the terminology fairly simple.

2 Phil, August 13, 2015, comment on Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape,” New York Times, August 13, 2015,

3 I have chosen this strategy in part because I already had familiarity with the 2006 edition. Therefore, my experience of reading the second edition will be different from that of a person who encounters Ali's Sexual Ethics and Islam for the first time via this second edition. (All citations are from the 2016 edition.)

4 Ali Kecia, Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

5 See his discussion of the rape of the Sabine women in Augustine, City of God, Book 2.

6 Hina Azam, interview with the author, July 21, 2016.

7 Kecia Ali, “The Truth about Islam and Sex Slavery History Is More Complicated than You Think,” Huffington Post, August 19, 2015, Ali wrote the article in response to Callimachi, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape.”

8 Kecia Ali, interview with the author, June 3, 2016.

9 Ayesha Chaudhry, interview with the author, June 27, 2016.

10 Leila Ahmed's description of this phenomenon in the British colonial context is helpful. See Ahmed Leila, Women, Gender, and Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).

11 Chaudhry, interview.

12 Azam, interview.

13 Ali, interview.

14 Chaudhry, interview.

15 Azam, interview.

16 Ali, interview.

17 Ibid.

18 Azam, interview.

19 Ali, interview.

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Journal of Law and Religion
  • ISSN: 0748-0814
  • EISSN: 2163-3088
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-law-and-religion
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