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Islam, Gender, and Sexualities  

Yafa Shanneik

Mapping a discussion on gender and sexualities in Islam needs to move beyond an understanding of Islamic law (shariah) and its interpretations that has traditionally been made by male religious scholars (ulamā). It is important to also pay attention to the lived experiences of people on the ground and move away from a homogeneous universal construct of what gender is and what sexualities are. It should include an examination of various power structures that highlights the experiences and voices of not only women but also other subjected and subaltern groups. What are the intersections and overlapping viewpoints and arguments on gender and sexualities in Islam? Who is talking on behalf of which group? The examination of gender and sexualities within Islam is a complex topic that needs consideration of socioeconomic and political shifts as well as ongoing processes of modernization and globalization. This includes the formation of nation-states, the codification of Islamic law, the shift in family relations and mobility, the increase in level of education and waged labor, and transnational migration. International organizations, such as the United Nations, also exert pressure on governments of Muslim-majority countries to adhere to established international human rights standards. This pressure has played a role in prompting changes in legislations particularly regarding the personal status law that affects women’s and other minority rights. The aftermath of the latest political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since 2011 has placed gender at the heart of not only religious but also political contestations. Displacement and the sociopolitical marginalization of minority groups have contributed to the changing understandings of gender orders within the MENA region and beyond. As a consequence, normative understandings of gender and sexualities have been renegotiated and readjusted and have resulted in new gender power relations. This disruption of conventional gender power relations creates tensions and causes divergences between what, for generations, has been perceived as traditional gender norms. This is primarily evident within familial structures and conjugal relationships where the lived realities do not always reflect current Islamic jurisprudence or the law set by the state.