Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Women's Rights & Islamic Family Law Reform in Bahrain

Bahrain is one of the only countries in the MENA/Gulf region without an Islamic family law code that applies to all of its Muslim citizens. In May 2009, Bahrain passed a family law code for the first time (Law No. 19) which applies only to its Sunni citizens.

The Bahraini government has yet to implement a code for its Shīʿa citizens; this remains controversial, as family law has become of symbol of Islamic identity, and some Bahraini Shīʿa religious scholars view codification as a foreign imposition or an intrusion on Shīʿī religious authority. What are the implications? In Bahraini Jaʿfarī sharīʿa courts, personal status matters are still decided on a case-by-case basis by judges, who use their own discretion to interpret the Islamic tradition, drawing on Islamic sources like fatwās, legal manuals.

Above: a recent documentary advocates passing the family law code in Bahrain, where the Mālikī school and the Jaʿfarī schools are the predominant schools of Islamic law (madhāhib).

In Bahrain and elsewhere, women's rights activists, NGOs, international conventions like CEDAW have portrayed Islamic family law codification/reform as essential to empowering women, combating legal discrimination and unfair treatment of women, gender inequalities, corruption, court delays, etc.  Overall, codification is an integral part of modernizing statecraft.

Above: Bahraini women's rights activist Ghada Jamsheer discusses the family law code reform project in a 2005 interview on al-ʿArabīya TV. (Arabic)

The codification project in Bahrain is similar to recent family law codification projects in the Gulf region as well as family law reform in Egypt (i.e. Law No. 1 or 2000) and Morocco (i.e. the Mudawwana of 2004).

Family law codes (a.k.a. personal status codes) typically cover matters like marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, etc. Today, the vast majority of modern nation states in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab Gulf employ a mix of transplanted European law codes and codified sharīʿa provisions. Many of these countries have already passed family law codes, which are often derived from Islamic sources.

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