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To Judge or Not to Judge: A Comparative Analysis of Islamic Jurisprudential Approaches to Female Judges in the Muslim World (Indonesia, Egypt and Iran)

Engy Abdelkader

University of Pennsylvania

May 1, 2013

Fordham International Law Journal, Forthcoming

In 941 A.D., a Muslim woman served in a judicial capacity after initially acting as an advisor to the head of state. She is the first, and perhaps only, Muslim female judge or "Qadiya" referenced in scholarly discourse on religion, gender and the law. Today, the subject is fraught with controversy, yet remains significant to the discourse on gender rights particularly amid fluid developments falling under the rubric of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and constitutional reform. This inquiry explores the question of women’s agency vis-à-vis a descriptive, comparative and normative analysis of the experience of female judges in Muslim majority societies. Significantly, it highlights the manner in which religion continues to represent a powerful, influential force upon law and society in the Muslim world. The article also identifies and catalogs the most prominent narratives employed to empower and repress Muslim women not only in judicial administration but myriad gender contexts. Moreover, it surveys religious, social and political factors impacting women’s ascension to the bench in Indonesia and Egypt, as well as her demotion from it in Iran. The piece concludes by contemplating comparative strategies and considerations for continued gender equitable reform.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 83

Keywords: Civil law system, Optional Protocol of the Women Convention, UN Convention on Political Rights of Women, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Gender Rights, Judges, Female Judges, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Religious Courts, Feminism, Islamic law.

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