Battle of Interpretation

I could never fathom why women were seen as lesser creatures when compared to men. In my opinion, I believe women and men possess certain qualities that should make everyone stand on the same playing field; no one is better than the other. Writer Judith E. Tucker writes in her book In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine (1998) about how today she sees Islamic tradition and authenticity as the go-to support system when the restrictive interpretation of women’s rights and social roles are called into question (Tucker 2).

In the beginning, Tucker introduces the topic of The Law, the Courts, and the Mutifs in order to establish how the Islamic texts, the Qur’an, and the hadith (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) influenced the structure of gender roles in the Islamic society (Tucker 2). Tucker goes on to explain, multiple times throughout the book, about how these texts were interpreted through “processes of selective and self-serving interpretation” (Tucker 3). Tucker mentions the work of Fatima Mernissi, a “prominent Moroccan feminist,” while performing her research because Mernissi provides in-depth reasoning as of how gender roles were constructed throughout history (Tucker 3). Tucker then proceeded to analyze the past because it became “necessary and vital” towards the understanding of how structures were and are formed (Tucker 2). In addition to researching about the past, Tucker also decided to focus on the law because there is a “rich” amount of fatwas (collections of judicial response) to analyze (Tucker 4). The analyzation focused on the way certain topics were approached and what methods were used to make decisions. Through the use of Mernissi’s research, Tucker discovered how Muhammad’s message of social equality was “modified, distorted, or completely lost as the political leaders and scholars… shaped tradition” for their own selfish reasons (Tucker 5). I believe in any academic paper or research paper, the need to explore the past is extremely needed because it outlines the events that have constructed how that particular society handles situations.

Throughout the book, when Tucker introduces a chapter, she poses it with a question and then answers it based on the information she received for that specific chapter. This technique was helpful for the reader because the reader may not have a great understanding of the Islamic tradition and laws. The question and answer technique helps to place the reader in that specific situation to set them up for what they will be focusing on in that chapter. For example, in the first chapter, Tucker gives the reader an example of a virgin being married to a man, but claims her to be already “deflowered” (Tucker 1). He would then send her back to her family because she was not a virgin; however, the story goes on to say the accusation made by the husband has no consequence on the wife because she could have been “deflowered” by jumping, through menstruation, or with age (Tucker 1). The husband went on to steal the wife’s sister (it is not specifically stated why), but he must then return the wife’s sister, after the accusation was denied, from where he abducted her and he should be imprisoned until he does so. In this particular example, I truly appreciated the understanding of a woman’s body and how a woman can be “deflowered” by performing other activities instead of zina (illicit intercourse) (Tucker 1). What actually confused me in this section was the forms of punishment the woman would have endured if she was guilty of previously being deflowered. In this situation, the man would only be imprisoned for his crime of lying and abducting, but for the woman, she would be killed or suffered hadd punishment (punishment prescribed by the Qur’an) for lying about being “deflowered” (Tucker 1). I could only ask the question, why is the woman’s punishment so much more harmful and cruel than the man’s? He committed two acts against the law, but she only committed one. Also, the woman’s punishment is based on what the Qur’an states, but the man’s punishment is not stated to be in reference of what the Qur’an says. It started to become evident that the law was in favor of the male’s perspective and benefit.

Tucker goes on to write about the struggles the conservatives have to deal with when choosing how to handle certain situations. There are two distinctively different ways a conservative is confronted in the Islamic circle. On the one hand, “Muslim jurists can and should undertake to interpret the law so as to make it a relevant and useful guide for life in the modern world” (Tucker 6). For example, Tucker quotes Fazlur Rahman, “a reformer or modernist liberal,” on interpreting the topic of a man having more superiority than the female (Tucker 6). Rahman states, “…the woman, although she can possess and even earn wealth, is not required to spend on the household, which must be solely the concern of the male, and that, therefore, the male enjoys a certain superiority” (Tucker 6). I disagree with the accusation of a male having more superiority due to the fact he pays for the house because the woman is allowed to save her money and spend it on whatever else she wants. However, Rahman goes on to view this example from a “modernist liberal” view (Tucker 7). Since the woman is allowed to become economically independent and could possibly contribute to the household, the spouses must “come to enjoy absolute equality” (Tucker 7). I agree with this point of view because both the male and female could actually support the household and be on the same level of superiority. On the other hand, the second way to deal with social situations is to also call for a return to Qur’anic principles, but without the reformist agenda (Tucker 3). This interpretation does not allow the modern world to affect the jurist’s thoughts, unlike the first confrontational position. The jurists believed that the Qur’anic verses did not need to be adjusted to the modern world. Therefore, in 1979, “Iran’s Assembly of Experts” created another constitution for the “new Islamic Republic,” regardless of people’s disapproval, particularly the women (Tucker 7).

Furthermore, I appreciated Tucker’s chapters on marriage and divorce because I have been exposed to some stories from the Islamic culture that chooses the male’s word over the female’s word; however, Tucker gives examples of how the female has an opportunity to decline a marriage, but the example that was given was based on the bride’s abduction into a forced marriage. Also, the bride’s father is the one who can annul the marriage (Tucker 37). The male, particularly the father, is seen as the one who has control over what the female does. On the contrary, I believe the woman should have an automatic right to deny marriage if she is abducted because it was done without her consent. The father should not have to dictate whether she will stay in that marriage or not. In addition to marriage, if a male cannot provide for his wife, he has two options based on God’s two commands to either maintain her well or “release her with kindness” (Tucker 78). Again, the male is the one who has to release her of this duty. Marriage is seen as a business deal and if one side is not able to provide, then the Shafi’i na’ib (assistant judge) should separate them (Tucker 78). There were contracts, whether oral or written, that united a woman and man in which the bride and groom are given an amount or mahr (indirect dowry paid by the groom to the bride) in which the groom must provide before marriage (Tucker 38). If the husband could not provide he should let her go. Nevertheless, I believe the woman should have the right to leave because she is the one who has to suffer until her husband makes a decision for her. She should have the opportunity to decide what she wants for herself instead of the male’s deciding for her because they will put their best interest ahead of hers in the end.

Overall, Tucker explains how, during the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the muftis, qadis, and urban populations of Syria and Palestine “passed down… a guide for gender relations in the modern world” (Tucker 7). Majority of the Islamic word was interpreted for the “male needs and desires” (Tucker 180). There were certain flexibility with some laws that were exhibited throughout the book, particularly with marriage and divorce, which changed with social conditions (Tucker 38).  As a result, Tucker believes the need to go back and question the processes as to which the Islamic culture constructs their gender roles “cannot but enrich the debates of today” and I agree with her (Tucker 186). Going to the past and deconstructing how gender roles are created would be an important step in breaking down these walls.



Tucker, Judith E. In the House of the Law: Gender and Islamic Law in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. Berkeley: U of California, 1998. Print.