Subject to timely availability of funding, this project will be implemented in two phases over 4 to 5 years:
The first phase, to be implemented between June 1998 and circa May 2000 (two years) will consist of: (1) A global survey of the status of IFL around the world, including existing studies as well as reform initiatives and their outcomes. (2) Three pilot studies, as explained below, of one Islamic country and two Muslim minorities in predominantly non-Islamic countries.
The second phase, to be implemented between June 2000 and circa May 2002 (two years) applying the methodology of the three pilot studies of phase one, and testing their tentative conclusions, in an additional seven studies: five Islamic counties and two Muslim minorities in predominantly non-Islamic countries.
The global survey of phase one will be based on library research, interviews and discussions with judges and attorneys, concerned scholars, policy makers, social justice groups and women’s and human rights activists. I (Abdullahi An-Na’im) will be responsible for this global survey, assisted by two or three research assistants. I will also coordinate the three pilot studies of phase one, but the primary work will be done by local researchers in each case, working with community-based organizations. These researchers will constitute the core of the project team, to be joined in due course by the lead researchers of phase two. The criteria of the selection of the project team will be explained below.
At this point, I should mention tentative plans for collaboration on the implementation of this project with Dr. Lynn Welchman, Lecturer in Law, and Director of the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London, U.K. Dr. Welchman is an expert in the theory and practice of Islamic Family Law. In fact, her study of the application of IFL in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (due to be published soon in English and Arabic) provided initial inspiration for the present project. I have discussed this proposal with her, and she promised full cooperation in its implementation once funding is secured. I am truly grateful for this offer of collaboration because the University of London, and SOAS in particular, will provide excellent human and material resources for the implementation of this project.
The choice of the one Islamic country and one Muslim minority in Africa or Asia for pilot studies of phase one will be decided after further consultations, but the Muslim minority in the West will be that of the United States (about six million people of different backgrounds and living in a variety of communities). The five countries and two Muslim minorities of phase two will be decided in light of the findings of both the global survey and pilot studies of phase one.
Subject to further consultations and testing through the pilot studies of phase one, the project team described below will conduct the following studies of the selected countries and communities:
1. Anthropological/sociological analysis to understand and document the actual practice of IFL, and its main consequences for the societies and communities. These studies will examine the dynamics of theory and practice of IFL in specific (social, cultural, economic and political) contexts. They will include, for example, examination of the role of women rights and social justice activists, formal institutions such as the judiciary and legal profession, as well as informal bodies like groups of community elders.
2. Assessment of reform possibilities and initiatives under two themes:
a) Examination of the origins and historical evolution of the current system of IFL in the selected societies to explore whether alternative formulations of the law might be based on the same sources. The idea of this subtheme is to critically examine how legal choices were made, and can therefore be revised, within the same theological and legal tradition to minimize resistance to reform proposal and initiatives.
b) Elaboration and substantiation of new and creative approaches to IFL reform in theory and practice. The objective here will be to critique the present law and practice from human rights and social policy perspectives, develop alternative formulations of IFL and examine ways of promoting them in the specific political, cultural and legal contexts of the societies in question.
The precise scope and methodology for the pilot studies will be discussed and finalized at a small meeting of the core project team during the summer of 1998. At the end of phase one, we will convene a workshop of what by then will be the expanded project team, including a few resource persons, to discuss the findings of the first phase and clarify themes and methodologies for the sub-projects of phase two. The lead researcher(s) of each selected country or community will bring to the workshop their tentative proposal of the concept, methodology and budget of their respective studies. These proposals will be discussed at the workshop to assist the researchers responsible for implementation in finalizing their plans before embarking on local implementation. We also propose to convene one or two workshops of the project team during the implementation of these phase two studies to ensure that all activities remain focused on the objectives of the project as a whole, and to prepare for the wide dissemination and advocacy of conclusions and reform initiatives. Those workshops may also plan and pursue future activities following the termination of the present project.
As indicated earlier, this project will coordinate the work of a select team of scholars and activists in related fields from a representative sample of Islamic countries and communities around the world. Criteria for selection of team members include balance in gender and interdisciplinary, scholarly/activist approaches. For example, the team should not only include social scientists as well as lawyers, but the lawyers in the group should be able to work in an interdisciplinary manner. The team should also include members who have experience in community outreach, and political advocacy. A good example of the sort of team members we have in mind would be Salbiah Ahmad (lawyer) and Noani Othman (sociologist) who are the leading and most experienced members of “Sisters in Islam,” a group of women activists working in Malaysia (and Southeast Asia in general) to promote the rights of women from an Islamic perspective.
The project team will also include scholars like Professor Amina Wadud (who has already tentatively agreed to participate in this project) who are developing innovative theological interpretations of the Qur’an that are conducive to achieving equality for women. Though a valuable theoretical resource, indeed essential for achieving lasting reform, the work of these scholars tend to remain unknown and unaccessible to the activists and policy makers who need it the most. The project will be striving for the mutual benefit of these two groups: community-based activists drawing on the insights of scholars, and the scholars having opportunities to test and refine their thinking in light of practical experiences of community-based activists.
As a practical matter, I should note here that English will be the main working language of the project as a whole. Yet, the project will lose capable researchers and vital resources if all aspects of the work are confined to researchers and other participants fluent in English. Many capable researchers and collaborators, especially in Indonesia, Central Asia and Francophone African countries will thereby be excluded. This problem can be resolved by having regional coordinators who are fluent in English to work with researchers and local collaborators in French, Russian or other relevant language. This factor should be noted now because of its budgetary implications for this proposal.
To summarize the proposed stages and activities of implementation:
(I) I will immediately begin (winter 1998) initial explorations of the situation in the U.S., Western Europe and Central Asia under a small research grant from Emory University under the auspices of the Faculty Seminar of the Halle Institute for Global Learning. If funding for the proposed major project is not granted in time, I can use the findings of my tentative research in writing an article on the subject, while continuing to seek funding for the project as a whole.
(ii) If funding for phase one is granted by May 1998, we will convene in June or July a planning meeting of all researchers of phase one (global survey and three pilot studies) with a couple of resource persons, to discuss and finalize plans for their respective studies.
(iii) The process of consultation about the selection of countries and communities to be studied during phase two of the project will begin at the June/July 1998 meeting and continue throughout phase one. I will also pursue funding possibilities for phase two during this period.
(iv) The global survey and three pilot studies will be presented to a workshop of the full project team (including resource persons, journalists and policy makers), expected to convene in an Islamic country circa December 1999. Given its projected composition and location, that meeting should provide a good opportunity for maximum publicity and exploration of possibilities of follow-up activities, regardless of the funding subsequent prospects of this project.
(v) If funding for phase two is secured by then, the December 1999 meeting will discuss and finalize plans for the additional studies of five Islamic countries and two Muslim minority situations. The remaining six months (up to May 2000) will be used for finalizing manuscripts for publication, and other follow up activities for this phase. However, if funding for phase two is not secured by then, this project will conclude with that meeting, except for remaining publication and other activities during the last six month of phase one.
In conclusion, I wish offer some reflections on why this project can be effectively implemented by the Law and Religion Program of Emory University. I propose the following response to the legitimate question: Why should such a major project on IFL be implemented by an American university, and the Law and Religion Program of Emory University in particular?
1. The researchers will be Muslim scholars/activists working on their own respective societies. Moreover, the above mentioned collaboration with Dr. Lynn Welchman of SOAS, London, will provide the project with excellent resources and possibilities of practical coordination.
2. Each team of researchers will devise their subproject, to be revised in light of discussion at the planning workshop of all researchers and a few resource persons. The role of the Law and Religion Program as convener will therefore be confined to general coordination and technical support for implementation and follow up activities of the project as a whole.
3. In view of the high degree of political sensitivity around issues of IFL in Islamic societies, whether in majority or minority situations, it probably wiser that the primary coordinator of the project as a whole be based outside the region. Implementation of the project by a university located outside the region will probably provoke less suspicions of ulterior political motives, provided that the empirical and technical work is conceived and performed by Muslim scholars working on their own societies as envisaged by this proposal.
4. Emory University has the necessary scholarly and technical capacity for the implementation of the project. In addition to the Law and Religion Program, Emory University is strongly building up its scholarly and technical resources for the study of Islam and Islamic societies. For example, there is the Committee on the Study of Islam, headed by Professor Richard Martin, a leading specialist of Islamic studies and Chair of the Department of Religion. This Committee consists of ten professors from different departments (Middle Eastern Studies, Law, Anthropology, Religion, Art History and Political Science). Moreover, the Graduate Division of Religion has just initiated a Ph.D. program in West and South Asian Religions, including Islam. Emory is also part of a consortium in Islamic studies (with Duke University and University of North Carolina).