Islamic Family Law: How to Handle the Challenges

Topics: Domestic Violence Views: 5510

Domestic issues are contentious ones for Muslims. Topics such as domestic violence, child custody and divorce are often taboo subjects for discussion due to the western view of these issues often being at odds with Muslim belief and/or cultural practice. Problems also arise with reference to media attention given to infrequent yet abhorrent practices such as "honor killings" and spousal abduction of children.

On August 14 iviews.com ran a story concerning a project being funded by the Ford Foundation called "Islamic Family Law: Possibilities of Reform Through Internal Initiatives." The story was indeed contentious and raised the hackles of some readers. And for good reason.

One of the main avenues of assault on Islam in the West has been paved with attacks on Muslim practice with reference to family and domestic life. And these attacks often take the form of liberal questioning of Islamic values and law. It is understandable then that Muslims might object to the type of project described in the iviews.com article.

Often adding to Muslims' concerns on these issues are the individuals who champion "reformation" of Islamic thought on domestic and other issues. In the case of the Islamic Family Law project, the affiliation of Dr. Abdullahi Na'im is the main source of controversy. Na'im, a professor of law at Emory University, has theorized about the compatibility of Islamic Law and secularism, a proposition that would raise skepticism in most religious Muslims. He has also been criticized for his appreciation of the teachings of the late Shaykh Mahmud Muhammad Taha who was executed for heresy in Sudan in 1985 for advocating the dismissal of Islamic Shariah law.

So Na'im's involvement in the Islamic Family Law project is indeed problematic. For many Muslims, the concept of reform itself is indeed problematic. Unfortunately however, the challenges of the 21st century will no doubt be laden with complexities yet to be dissected by Muslim scholarship.

For example, how is a Muslim woman supposed to handle a messy divorce in the state of Ohio where all financial assets are considered "marital" and therefore jointly owned? In this case a "dead-beat dad" could make a valid legal claim to half of his former wife's 401K plan. What about the equally messy issues of child custody that arise from divorce?

What Muslims need to recognize, is that as long as they reside in the West, America in particular, these confounding and troubling matters will continue to face them. The issue at hand, is how Muslims will choose to deal with these challenges.

At present the Ford Foundation has funded a project led by someone who many Muslims might consider a threat to the integrity of Islam. At present, the controversial Shaykh Hisham Kabbani has tasked the organization Kamilat to tackle domestic life issues. That is reality. Such projects and organizations have funding, staffing and drive and therefore receive attention for the work they do. And dealing with the challenges of Muslim family life is important work.

If Muslims are concerned with the manner in which this important work is being accomplished, then more Muslims need to take the initiative to do this work in the manner that they see fit and find acceptable.

With reference to the Islamic Family Law project with which Dr. Na'im is associated, it should be noted that other individuals involved in this particular project are striving to make the work surpass the impact of Na'im's involvement. Also participating is A'isha Jeffries who is the Vice President of External Affairs for the African-American Islamic Institute (AAII) and ECOSOC Representative for the institute at the United Nations. Joining her is Karima Al-Amin, the director of the Atlanta-based Shura Law Center and wife of renowned Muslim leader and activist Jamil al-Amin.

Based on their involvement and their stated desire to share this project with the Muslim community at-large, Muslims should investigate it, evaluate it and if warranted, participate in it.

Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com


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