NEWS06 Sep 2016
Chinese Muslim Scholars Respond to "Is there an Islamic Law Basis for the Authority of Female Clerics among Chinese Muslims?"  

China editor Matthew Erie turns to four prominent clerics and scholars in China to address the striking feature of Islamic law’s operation in China: female clerics who have equal standing to male clerics among the Hui Chinese Muslims. Called nü ahong, these female clerics assume the roles of imām (prayer leader), khaṭīb (sermon giver), and mediator. In a secular, state-controlled system such as China's, Muslim clerics have no means of legitimizing their own interpretations of Islamic law (fiqh) through state-sanctions channels. And yet these female clerics have been able to do so, without any sort of government ordinance. Moreover, they act without any explicit Qurʾānic directive. Measured against traditional interpretations of Islamic tradition, it is curious then that Chinese Muslims accept the authority of these female clerics as equal to that of their male counterparts; and the legal basis for the practice remains a point of contention among Chinese scholars of Islamic law. Erie takes up this question. He "examines the question of the legal basis for Hui female clerics through the opinions of leading clerics and scholars—female and male—from China, most of who are themselves Hui." This symposium is meant to "open up a space for reflection on and deliberation about an enduring feature of Muslim life in China and its connections to gender, culture, custom, and Islamic law," and its four opinions hint at the variety of perspectives. As Erie's introduction reveals, Mai Fenlian's necessity argument counters Liu Xueqiang's more traditionalist considerations, while Ge Caixia's historically-based perspective challenges the views influenced by "custom-based, gender relations" held by some of the Hui women interviewed for Man Ke's piece. Each opinion is posted in its original Chinese, with Erie's English summary of it. Image credit: NPR

SYMPOSIUM :The Case for Female Clerics in Islamic Law: Textual Bases,Old and New, Religious and Secular
Mai Fenlian (买粉连) is a former cleric who argues that there is a textual basis in Islamic law for female clerics. She suggests that evidence can be found in the Qurʾān and ḥadīth (prophetic reports) supporting "women's equal footing in religious life" and legitimizing "women's activities in social activities, from education to war." To be sure, she hedges the textual argument with an argument about the benefits, commenting that having more knowledgeable Hui women would lead to "more harmonious families and communities." Another scholar, Ge Caixia (葛彩霞), also uses Islamic law texts as the basis for her main argument in favor of female clerics’ authority, citing a ḥadīth relaying that "the Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha taught Islamic law, among other topics, to women." She complements the Islamic law texts with an argument from modern Chinese law, which "defines the requirements for an 'Islamic staff member' [to be] gender-blind." Image credit: BBC 
SYMPOSIUM :: The Case Against Female Clerics in Islamic Law: A Cultural Basis Does Not a Legal Basis Make

Cleric Liu Xueqiang (刘学强) examines arguments rooted in cultural norms to find a legal basis for female clerics. He concludes that "female clerics originate[d] in the particular historical-cultural environs of the Central Plains of China," out of the region's "traditions of scriptural education." For him, though, these origins are at odds with fundamental Islamic principles espousing gender complementarity rather than sameness. Professor Man Ke's (满珂) assessments confirm Liu's cultural argument about the origins of the practice. She finds that "custom-based gender relations influence" Salafī women– that is, those who adhere to Saudi Arabia-inspired conservative interpretations of Islamic law that purport to go back to Islam’s founding period – to "consistently" believe that women can only be "female teachers," and never authorized clerics. Image credit: China Daily

Other News

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Matthew Erie expands on his research about the Muslim Hui while speaking about his new book, China and Islam: The Prophet, the Party, and Law," with the New York Times

Looking for Law in All the Wrong Places: Medieval Legal History and the Problem of the Sources (12 Sep 2016, 5pm | Barker Center, Thompson Room, Harvard University). HLS Professors Elizabeth Kamali and Intisar Rabb will speak about alternative sources for Islamic and other medieval law at the Fall Medieval Studies Workshop and Reception.

Lunch Discussion: From Big Law to Public Service in the White House (16 Sept 2016, 12pm). Raheemah Abdulaleem the Associate General Counsel in the Executive Office of the President, Office of Administration, the White House. She shares her perspectives on a career that took her from private practice to public service as she pursued opportunities to advance the interests of justice in political campaigns, on issues of Islamic law, and in other arenas.  She is a former Senior Trial Attorney at the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and Employment Litigation Section, and President of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Register.

American Society of Legal History Annual Meeting (27-30 Oct 2016 | Toronto, Canada). Ottoman editor Will Smiley and editor-in-chief Intisar Rabb will present at the ASLH Annual Meeting on a panel addressing "Borderlands of Islamic Law: The Ottoman Empire and its Neighbors." Also at ASLH, Egyptian law and society historian Khaled Fahmy will present a paper that explores "Global Forensics: Medico-Legal History in Asia and Africa" on a panel chaired by Mitra Sharafi. See preliminary program.

Middle East Studies Association Annual Meeting (17-20 Nov 2016 | Boston, MA). MESA’s annual meeting will host a range of panels on Islamic law, including  Policing and Punishment in the Making of the Modern Middle East,  Is Saudi foreign policy 'Islamic'?, "Islamic Religious Authority between the Arab World and Europe: Multi-tasked and Multi-tasking Imams" (Denmark contributor Niels Valdemar Vinding will be presenting),  International Law, Sovereignty and Subjecthood in the Late Ottoman Empire (Ottoman editor Will Smiley will be a discussant),  Legal Contests & Disputes, Part ILaw as Social History in the Late Ottoman EraLegal Contests & Disputes, Part 2 See full preliminary program.

Qur’anists in al-Andalus? (5 April 2016 4 pm | White-Levy Room School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study). Incoming SHARIAsource/ILSP and CMES senior fellow Maribel Fierro will be speaking as part of the Institute for Advanced Study's Near/Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Lecture Series 2016/2017. She explores the production of religious and political authority by exploring the ways in which prophets accepted by Muslims are represented. See full details. 

"Changes in God’s Law: An Inner-Islamic Comparison of Family and Succession Law" (Oct/Nov 2016). Nadjma Yassaril's research group at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law is seeking scholars of Islamic family law to fill a post-doctoral position available starting in October/November 2016. Read more. 

“Law as Religion, Religion as Law” (05-07 June 2017 | Jerusalem). The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is seeking to bring together scholars from multiple disciplines (including law, religious studies, philosophy, history, political science and other relevant fields) for a conference on law and religion.  Call for papers.

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