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In an rewarding new study, Tucker explores the way in which Islamic legal thinkers understood Islam as it related to women and gender roles. In seventeenth and eighteenth century Syria and Palestine, Muslim legal thinkers gave considerable attention to women's roles in society, and Tucker shows how fatwas, or legal opinions, greatly influenced these roles. She challenges p In an rewarding new study, Tucker explores the way in which Islamic legal thinkers understood Islam as it related to women and gender roles. In seventeenth and eighteenth century Syria and Palestine, Muslim legal thinkers gave considerable attention to women's roles in society, and Tucker shows how fatwas, or legal opinions, greatly influenced these roles. She challenges prevailing views on Islam and gender, revealing Islamic law to have been more fluid and flexible than previously thought. Although the legal system had a consistent patriarchal orientation, it was modulated by sensitivities to the practical needs of women, men, and children. In her comprehensive overview of a field long neglected by scholars, Tucker deepens our understanding of how societies, including our own, construct gender roles.


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In an rewarding new study, Tucker explores the way in which Islamic legal thinkers understood Islam as it related to women and gender roles. In seventeenth and eighteenth century Syria and Palestine, Muslim legal thinkers gave considerable attention to women's roles in society, and Tucker shows how fatwas, or legal opinions, greatly influenced these roles. She challenges p In an rewarding new study, Tucker explores the way in which Islamic legal thinkers understood Islam as it related to women and gender roles. In seventeenth and eighteenth century Syria and Palestine, Muslim legal thinkers gave considerable attention to women's roles in society, and Tucker shows how fatwas, or legal opinions, greatly influenced these roles. She challenges prevailing views on Islam and gender, revealing Islamic law to have been more fluid and flexible than previously thought. Although the legal system had a consistent patriarchal orientation, it was modulated by sensitivities to the practical needs of women, men, and children. In her comprehensive overview of a field long neglected by scholars, Tucker deepens our understanding of how societies, including our own, construct gender roles.

30 review for In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This was a really interesting book - I'd give it four stars to the experience of reading it, but probably only three as an academic argument. Tucker says she was inspired to write the book by the work of Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist who wrote on the earliest days of Islam. Mernissi's work argued that - much like modern feminist Christians - the early day of the religion preached equality of the sexes. Strict gender roles only came later, as the radical religious movements were adapted by This was a really interesting book - I'd give it four stars to the experience of reading it, but probably only three as an academic argument. Tucker says she was inspired to write the book by the work of Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan feminist who wrote on the earliest days of Islam. Mernissi's work argued that - much like modern feminist Christians - the early day of the religion preached equality of the sexes. Strict gender roles only came later, as the radical religious movements were adapted by contemporary patriarchal cultures. Tucker attempts to extend this argument to 17th and 18th century Palestine and Syria. By examining court records and fatwas (legal opinions) issued by muftis (Islamic legal scholars), Tucker argues that the role of Islamic law in family life was nuanced and flexible. While the law tended to favor men, it's interpretation and application could also be used to protect the rights of women. A lot of this is really fascinating. It's a great resource for learning about the different types of Islamic divorce, for example. There's the faskh, which annulled marriages in cases of social incompatibility, sexual failings, or a man's failure to support his wife. There's talaq, a man's right to divorce his wife, unchallenged, whenever he chooses. And there's khul, divorce initiated by a woman, but requiring the payment of a fee as well as her husband's consent. There's another fascinating section about sexual assumptions. Homosexual and heterosexual desires were not seen as differentiated - it was, in legal texts, often seen as just as normal to be attracted to a beautiful young boy as a beautiful young girl. Desire was not seen as sinful, but it was seen as overwhelmingly powerful and dangerous: many legal scholars assumed that if a man and woman who were not related were left alone in a room together, they would inevitably have sex. And the sex was not so much the problem - unlike Christianity it was not seen as inherently problematic - but the social implications. Pregnancy out of wedlock or uncertain paternity was considered dangerous and disastrous for a community, so strict rules were kept in place to prevent it. This is all very interesting and I learned quite a bit from it. I do think that Tucker went a bit too far in her argument at points, though. While I think she's right that there was a flexibility in implementing the law and a concern for women's well-being, her picture struck me as a little overly rosy. This was still a society where women were deemed legally mature when men thought them attractive enough for sex. It's not that much of a condolence that judges didn't condemn women to death for adultery as much as they could have.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Justin Michael James Dell

    There's an interminable debate between historians: is history worthy of study in its own right, irrespective of the present, or should the study of history be calibrated toward its modern application? Judith E. Tucker's monograph certainly falls within the orbit of the latter philosophy as she examines the history of Islamic law in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman Palestine & Syria, specifically how it developed and transformed in the crucible of quotidian life, and what lessons it ho There's an interminable debate between historians: is history worthy of study in its own right, irrespective of the present, or should the study of history be calibrated toward its modern application? Judith E. Tucker's monograph certainly falls within the orbit of the latter philosophy as she examines the history of Islamic law in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman Palestine & Syria, specifically how it developed and transformed in the crucible of quotidian life, and what lessons it holds for contemporary Muslim societies. Conventional wisdom has always impressed upon Middle Eastern historians the idea that the parameters of Islamic law became fixed by the second or third centuries A.H., that the "the gates of ijtihad [interpretation] were closed," and that Islamic legal injunctions were dispensed essentially by rote by the muftis. This is certainly the interpretation that is most attractive to the modern-day Islamist agenda that seeks to return Muslim societies (and others) back to a purportedly pristine Islamic regime governed under a legal code unsullied by centuries of damnable "innovation"; the law was given once and for all, they say, by God's messenger, a type of one-size-fits all code that does not, and should not, be modified according to local circumstances or the vagaries of time. However, Tucker challenges this fundamentalist, atavistic dogmatism by demonstrating that the muftis of seventeenth and eighteenth century Syria and Palestine did indeed "interpret" [ijtihad] Islamic law for themselves and tailored its application in a manner that balanced the collective good with justice for the individual. There is a sense, I think, in which Tucker has set out to prove a prefabricated thesis. Certainly, her argument is, in its own way, agenda driven. Nonetheless, she does unearth some fairly cogent documentation to instantiate her point. For example, she looks at marriage and its central place in Muslim society at the time of study. Much to my delight, she does not make any wild, ahistorical claims that Islamic law upheld the "equality" of men and women; the differences between men and women were based on their innate biological particularities, and there was a sense in which man was conceived to be "one degree superior" to the woman in Islamic thinking. However, the muftis - those scholars employed by the Muslim community to sift through Islamic religious and legal literature for the purposes of enjoining the good and resolving social discord - sedulously ensured that women were not left at the complete mercy of patriarchy. For example, underage girls could be married off to other men by their male guardian or "wali". If the girl was under the care of her father or grandfather, the marriage remained in force when the girl came of age and she would be handed over to the one to whom she had been betrothed. However, if the "wali" had been a man other than her father or grandfather - say, he brother or uncle - upon reaching the age of majority she could annul the marriage by refusal. Young women were also guaranteed a "mahr" or a dowry payment upon marriage, a sum that was usually negotiated beforehand between the families of the couple-to-be. After the marriage, a bride could refuse to consummate the marriage until she received her payment. In the event of a divorce, women were also insured financially, as the ex-husband was obligated to support his ex-wife during her "waiting period" between divorce and finding a new husband. On the matter of divorce, men had more power. Men merely had to pronounce "I divorce you" thrice audibly to his wife in order for an irrevocable divorce to take place. However, according to the muftis women were also capable of seeking divorce, called "Khul," in which she would have to seek her husband's permission. Although dependent upon her husband's consent, a women could entice her husband to agree by cancelling the "mahr" debt he owed her if he had not already payed it, as well as providing him with financial compensation for the divorce, agreed upon by both parties before the divorce took place. What Tucker is getting at here is that muftis accorded women a certain level of agency; they were not powerless chattel, even if the cards were stacked against women to a certain extent. The primary concern for muftis was ensuring social cohesion and community harmony, balancing individual happiness with the collective good. Men and women, though unequal, were considered complimentary. "And Allah knows best," as the muftis were wont to say. What Tucker demonstrates in her various microscopic examinations of case studies in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Ottoman Syrian and Palestinian Islamic jurisprudence is that Islamic law was constantly developing, transforming and evolving in response to real-world exigencies for which necessary inference by the mufti into the intent[I emphasize that word] of Islamic law, as it had been established and circumscribed in the past, had to be made in order to ensure that true justice was served. Tucker laments that this practice of interpretation has since been lost in most Muslim societies, as Islamic law has been "codified," a word that carries opprobrium in Tucker's parlance. This "codification" of Islamic law by national states has made dispensing justice in Islamic countries - particularly as it concerns women's and gender issues - very 'mechanical' and unresponsive to extenuating and immediate circumstances, as Muslim jurists attempt to pigeonhole all legal cases into putatively immutable, one-size-fits all, cookie-cutter rulings. What Tucker would like to see in modern Muslims societies is a return to the fluidity characteristic of a bygone age of Muslim jurisprudence. Tucker's book is a helpful primer on Islamic law, particularly so-called "personal status law". However, lacking greater familiarity with the subject, I am not in a position to speak to the overall cogency of her thesis. I am incredulous that modern Islamic regimes and judges do not tailor Islamic law to some degree to make it relevant to matters encountered "on the ground" at the quotidian level in their respective societies. Perhaps what is lacking in Tucker's monograph is a juxtaposition of her subject material with specific examples of how contemporary Islamic law is enforced in Muslim countries; perhaps comparing and contrasting the two sets of case studies would help to instantiate the differences that Tucker speaks to. Aside from that, it is hard for the layman reader to verify her argument. On a small bonus note, Tucker uses a lot of jargon related to Islamic law that the reader may have a hard time keeping straight. It is therefore just as well that she provides a glossary at the back of the book for these terms! :)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stacy Fahrenthold

    I assign this book to my undergrads for a unit on the law in the Ottoman Empire annually. It is consistently great for helping students to understand the stakes of writing social history before the 20th century! Tucker's prose is accessible and unparalleled in its synthesis of major legal concepts governing marriage, divorce, inheritance, and family law to an introductory audience. I assign this book to my undergrads for a unit on the law in the Ottoman Empire annually. It is consistently great for helping students to understand the stakes of writing social history before the 20th century! Tucker's prose is accessible and unparalleled in its synthesis of major legal concepts governing marriage, divorce, inheritance, and family law to an introductory audience.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mohammed Sultan

    Reading this book was very entertaining for you since it is almost one of the most accurate books analyzing that Islamic jurisdictions during the nineteenth century. For those who havent read the book yet, it shows many cases where women were going thorugh unfamiliar situations for the islamic law, and how the jurists handeled or inspected those cases. For example, the book states the strange circumstances such as a woman married to a man and then the man died without decalring his marriage to t Reading this book was very entertaining for you since it is almost one of the most accurate books analyzing that Islamic jurisdictions during the nineteenth century. For those who havent read the book yet, it shows many cases where women were going thorugh unfamiliar situations for the islamic law, and how the jurists handeled or inspected those cases. For example, the book states the strange circumstances such as a woman married to a man and then the man died without decalring his marriage to the people. Would she be deemed as a lawful wife in front of the law, particularly if there is no documentation abou the marriage or any witnesses. The reader should have general information abou the Islamic law because the book is dealing with a particular school of the Islamic jurisprudence which is the Hanafi school. Such school was followed by most of the ottoman judges, so knowing the basics of such school would make the life very easy espicially for someone who is Exposed to such genere for the first time. The author divided The research into five main topics, namely,the law or the court and how it functions, Marriage, Divorce, Mothering and Fathering, and Sexuality and reproduction. I would totally recommend this book for you since it is well written and easy to digest if your are familiar with the topic or has read some article about it. Unlike most of the difficlut to read book about law, this book is very comprehensive and direct to the point. Also, the stated cases in the book are well explained and analyized with simple english which implies that the author has done extensive research about the topic. finally, even though those cases occured in the nineteenth century, most of them are still debatle in the current time which could raise a lot of question marks about the topic. It is quite helpful for me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    An intriguing book that examines nuances of how law is applied to issues of gender in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. It turns out, like it most law, in certain circumstances women were able to wield a certain amount of legal freedom that when compared to contemporaries in Europe looked somewhat more liberal, specifically when it came to divorce. However, in other ways women lacked fundamental rights. A very good jumping off point and interesting study on something that is being hotly debated right An intriguing book that examines nuances of how law is applied to issues of gender in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. It turns out, like it most law, in certain circumstances women were able to wield a certain amount of legal freedom that when compared to contemporaries in Europe looked somewhat more liberal, specifically when it came to divorce. However, in other ways women lacked fundamental rights. A very good jumping off point and interesting study on something that is being hotly debated right now.

  6. 4 out of 5

    G Barahona

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  30. 4 out of 5

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