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Dina El Omari

To whom belongs the female body? Critical reflections on male authority over the female body

The language and perspective used in both Islamic jurisprudence and the religious practice of Muslims are clearly androcentric, with the different areas of Islamic law and thus also religious practice often speaking about women as objects. This leads to significant restrictions to a woman’s right to self-determination, especially in regard to how the female body is perceived.

Although the various Islamic countries have made attempts of varying intensity to adapt regulations to the context of people’s lives as part of processes of modernizing and adapting Islamic law as codified law, the limits of these processes have become evident time and again. On the one hand, processes of negotiation and the accompanying legislation are only fruitful in most Islamic countries where no fixed and immutable rules and norms of Sharia exist, making possible an independent interpretation (Arabic: iǧtihād). But, in turn, this is only possible in accordance with the main sources for deriving the religious norms of Islamic law, i.e. the Quran and the hadiths (Arabic: aḥādīṯ). The main problem here is the adherence to these sources as divine or prophetic legal texts that are to be understood in a purely literal way. On the other hand, the underlying understanding of female sexuality in Islamic theology has doubly negative and highly paradoxical connotations. Female sexuality is considered dangerous and has a potentially destructive character for society, since a woman’s unrestrained desire for sexuality arouses desire in men. As a result, she is depicted as being actively aggressive, the means of regulation being marriage on the one hand, and veiling and gender segregation on the other. At the same time, though, Islamic scholars emphasize the need for a woman always to satisfy the sexual needs of her husband, meaning that she is portrayed in this context as passive. Both the treatment of the sources and this underlying understanding of female sexuality have inevitable consequences for the religious norms derived from the sources and thus also for the lives of Muslim women. My talk will address these problems and tries to give a methodological shift with regard to how the two main sources of Islamic law are treated, a shift away from an ahistorical towards a historical understanding, so that they can yield religious norms that do justice to the claim both of gender equality and of women’s empowerment.

Univ.-Prof.i.R. Dr.iur.

Josef Marko

Institut für Öffentliches Recht und Politikwissenschaft

Telefon:+43 316 380 - 3374
Fax:+43 (0)316 380 -9452

Organisational Contact

Dr.phil. MA

Lukas Waltl

Institut für Öffentliches Recht und Politikwissenschaft

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