By Christine G Schenk, University of Geneva
Islamic law and Islamic leaders are often portrayed as a cohesive, inflexible block. But engagements with Islamic law and Islamic leaders are highly diverse as debates and initiatives around Islam, gender and feminism show (see the blog Muslims in Interwar Europe). My article, recently published in The Geographical Journal, highlights the diversity and reflexivity of Islamic leaders. Internal deliberations among Islamic leaders can not only reconcile co-existent laws but also different religious schools of thought in many Muslim societies. These deliberations are particularly important, for example, in legal reforms on family law (see the network Women living under Muslim laws).
The article examines deliberations among Islamic leaders adhering to the Shafi school (Sunni Islam) on family law in Aceh, Indonesia between 2006 – 2008. This reform was particularly contentious as family law regulates, among other duties, marriages and aims to provide legal security, especially to women. But due to nearly 30 years of conflict between the Aceh Free Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Central Government of Indonesia, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, family law was hardly implemented. The civil administration was dormant, while Acehnese communities were governed by Islamic law and customary law.
In the process of legal reform, Islamic leaders considered the regulation of families as an intrusion of state bureaucracy into community affairs. In turn, Islamic leaders resisted calls to administer legal reform in their function as political partners within the Acehnese government. A cross-societal dialogue, facilitated by an aid agency and lobby groups, served to disentangle resistance against such legal reforms through internal deliberation. Consultation and interpretation of Islamic texts, such as the Quran, turned out to be a key element in reconciling different religious schools and co-existent laws.
Debates around gender, human rights and Islam receive pronounced attention in places that have been affected by conflict, crises and/or disaster (further information is available, for example, at Flower Aceh, and Sisters in Islam). My article argues that we need to consider the dynamics of law-making outside of Western democracies to obtain more nuanced understandings of the varieties of legal geographies across the globe.
About the author: Christine Schenk is PhD within the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Geneva.
Schenk, C. G. (2016), Islamic leaders and the legal geography of family law in Aceh, Indonesia. The Geographical Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12202