Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

The Muslim Family
Tove Stang Dahl

(Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1997)
211pp. Bib. ISBN 82-0022420-1. No price given.

This is both a fascinating and extremely valuable study which sheds considerable light on an area where misconceptions and partial knowledge often lead those from non-0Islamic backgrounds into unhelpful generalisations. The work reported in this volume forms part of a large scale longitudinal study whose primary focus is the management of sustainable development in large cities in the third world. One aspect of these investigations has been an analysis of the role of the family as a factor in promoting stability and development. This led to a series of case studies conducted over a period of almost 25 years in which the researchers examined family structures in poor districts of Cairo and in particular the roles of women within the family. The data from these protracted observations is linked with discussion of Islamic religious, social and legal teaching on the family and women's specific rights, duties and obligations within the family. As background a clear exposition of the sources of Islamic tradition is provided, the first part of this clarifies the distinctions between the academic interpretations of leading Islamic thinkers, the distinct national traditions of specific countries such as Egypt and the popular beliefs of 'ordinary people'. The complex legal structures on which family law depends are then examined through a discussion of legal aspects of the Koran and Sunna, the legal techniques for resolving specific types of issues and the range of expert views on the possibility of modification or re-interpretation of the law. The rest of the book considers how this legal framework interacts with the economic and political realties of life in poor districts of Cairo to shape women's experiences and expectations. Four main issues, the ways in which their roles in the family are defined, the procedures through which marriage partners are restricted by beliefs about the need for segregation of the sexes and patterns of marital relations, provide a structure for discussion. In each case there is an analysis of general issues followed by illustrative material relating to the actual experiences of one or more of the women involved in the case studies. Thus for example in the chapter on preparation for marriage and the legal basis of the marriage contract, the stages in negotiating the contract, and the customs surrounding betrothal are all examined and then details of the sequence of events surrounding two actual betrothals are outlined. This juxtaposition of what might be termed 'theory and practice' is potentially very valuable but there does seem to be an imbalance in favour of exploring the general legal issues so that the case study material on occasion appears rather peripheral. Just when the reader is beginning to appreciate differences between women's experiences of isolation in the inner city and the new suburban housing developments the scene shifts and one is left wanting more information. Perhaps the real problem is that the book is almost certainly too short to do justice to the wealth of material the researchers have collected.

Valerie Morgan, University of Ulster

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page