Reconciling Religion and Rights: Equality and Justice in Muslim Family Laws

On 15 March, Musawah, the global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, hosted an online discussion on the topic of “Reconciling Religion and Rights: Equality and Justice in Muslim Family Laws”.

With Sri Lanka’s most recent proposal made on Saturday (13) by Minister for Public Security Dr. Sarath Weerasekera, stating that he had signed a paper for cabinet approval to ban the burqa, which has been criticised as a move to appease the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority who accounts for about 75% of the country’s 22 million people with Muslims making up about 9%, it is apt to discuss the treatment of women in the scope of justice. However, the efforts to repeal family law remains an entirely different beast on its own.

The online discussion for “Reconciling Religion and Rights: Equality and Justice in Muslim Family Laws” featured activists form around the world who contributed and spoke about their work at the nexus of religion and rights, and made the case for reforming discriminatory Muslim family laws.

Activists joining in on the conversation included Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Regional Director Hala AlKarib; Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws for Musawah (Global) Co-ordinator Hyshyama Hamin; Centre for Egyptian’s Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) Advocacy Co-ordinator Nada Nashat; Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), India Founder Member Noorjehan Safia Niaz; and Advocacy, Legal Services, and Research for Sisters in Islam, Malaysia Programme Manager Shareena Sheriff. The event was moderated by Musawah (Global) International Advocacy Officer Alex McCarthy.

The discussion focused on the fact that many countries at the bottom of various gender equality surveys are those whose family laws discriminate against women and yet family law reform remains intractable, not least because religion is used both as a source of law and to justify resistance to reform.

They did a deep dive into the origins of the inequalities that exist in Muslim laws, sharing that many Muslim family laws are based on the twin concept of male authority and male guardianship – it has been a result of male scholars basing these two concepts to interpret the roles of a male and a female in Muslim culture.

They identified 12 main issues that cut across Muslim family laws in countries, whether they are majority Muslim countries or Muslim minority countries. Many of the issues being identified are concerns prior to marriage, particularly consent to marriage and a capacity of women to enter into marriage, and women often lack the autonomous rights men do. They shared that one of the key areas of change happens in the area of raising the marriageable age for Muslim girls, which is often lower than that of the man.

The panellists also noted the effects of Covid-19 on these women whom are affected by these family laws, sharing that especially in countries like Sudan, there will be millions of girls who will not be making it back to school once the pandemic has ended, as either they have been married off or have been bequeathed or are now pregnant.

On a closing note, they shared that considering the 12 issues that have been identified – unequal legal framework on family law, unequal capacity to enter into marriage, forced marriage, child marriage, polygamy, violence against women in the family, unequal right to transfer nationality to spouse or children, unequal right to inheritance, unequal divorce rights, lack of financial rights at the time of divorce, no rights to guardianship of children, and unequal rights to custody of children, they have made efforts to push for reform in 33 countries including Sri Lanka, and take forward the positive effects that have come from these efforts.


The webinar livestreamed on Facebook. To watch, visit