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Women and Islamic law in Marinid Morocco
Admiral, Rosemary G.
Director of Research (if dissertation) or Advisor (if thesis)
Cuno, Kenneth M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s)
Cuno, Kenneth M.
Ruggles, D. Fairchild
Department of Study
Degree Granting Institution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This dissertation examines women's lives and relationships in Morocco under the Marinid dynasty (mid-thirteenth to mid-fifteenth century) through their engagement with Islamic law. At the same time, it investigates the implementation of the Maliki school of Islamic law in the premodern Islamic West through cases involving women. Specifically, it explores the conflicts that arose when women challenged men's authority over them in the context of gendered laws that regulated marriage and divorce. This research draws on collections of questions submitted to Marinid jurists that described disputes between ordinary people, and the legal opinions (fatwas) issued by the jurists in response. Both the questions and answers indicate norms, assumptions and practices of legal authorities and ordinary people. The fatwa sources are contextualized with additional legal, historical, biographical and political sources.
These cases reveal a rich world of legal interpretation, accommodation and collaboration that took place at multiple levels of society: within family relationships, at the community level, in official legal venues, and at the sultan's court. Women participated at each level, and helped shape the legal culture, using legal mechanisms to protect their interests in their relationships with the men in their families. Women used law in family relationships as a means to contest men's authority over them, despite the fact that it was through legal principles that men claimed that authority in the first place. This study shows that in practice, the law accommodated the needs of society, including its women, and through their actions and encounters with the law, women contributed to the process of law making in premodern Morocco.
Studies on women’s engagement with Islamic law have largely centered on the central Middle East, and especially law under the Ottoman Empire, or have been confined to theoretical legal texts that do not provide evidence of how the law functioned in practice. This research draws attention to an important area of the Islamic World that was distinguished by distinct bureaucratic structures and followed a different school of legal thought than other areas. It outlines how law was practiced in a specific historical moment, namely the dynamic legal and cultural world of Marinid Morocco. Through an exploration of the lives and legal agency of ordinary women in a premodern Islamic legal system, this dissertation contributes to the fields of women's history, legal history, Moroccan history, and histories of the Islamic world more broadly. It provides a starting point for modern debates on women’s relationship to Islamic law by showing how Islamic legal principles were translated into a concrete legal system in a particular society, and how women worked within the confines of the law or, at times, outside of it.