World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Domains of Intimacy: Gendered Constructions of Law, the Body and Sexuality in the Middle East (219) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: WED 21, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Villanova University (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Dr. Hibba Abugideiri

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Over the last decade, scholarly investigation of domains of intimacy those of sex, reproduction, sentiment and domestic arrangement have provided new ways to rethink the intersection between gender and power within the Middle East and within other, particularly colonial contexts (Stoler, 2002; Clancy Smith and Gouda, 1998; Stoler and Cooper; 1997; Hansen, 1992). Work on sexuality (Semerdjian, 2008; Massad,2007; Zeevi 2006; Najmabadi, 2005; Rowson,1991), the body (Abugideiri, forthcoming; Jacob forthcoming; Malti-Douglas, 2002), the family (Pollard 2005, Ali, 2002, Kanaaneh, 2002; Khater 2001; Inhorn, 1995) marriage (Kholoussy, forthcoming 2010) and the legal constitution of gender (Peirce, 2003; Tucker, 2000; Sonbol, 1996) in the Middle East have addressed the ways in which intimate practices and their discrepant meanings for various historical actors have taken on new public meanings over time in the context of empire and nation building, colonialism and globalization. And yet, there remains a pressing need to examine critically how notions of the intimate itself have shifted over time and in response to new historical conditions and structural changes. We propose to bring these various bodies of work into dialogue with each other by looking at how various domains of intimacy have been constructed and understood at different historical moments and within different geographic contexts in ways which problematize essentialist notions of sexuality, the body, the division between public/private, secularism and law.

Chair: Layla Saatchi, Wayne State University

Paper presenter: Layla Saatchi (Wayne State University), ""Laws of inheritance in the Islamic Republic of Iran: A Paradigm of Gender Inequality?"
This project examines the inheritance laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran as they pertain to women and asks the following questions: Do these laws contribute to the segregation and inequality of women in Iran, and if so, to what extent and how? The contemporary ijma of Shi'a and Sunni ulama holds that Islamic inheritance law is inherently egalitarian because when it is placed in the greater matrix of Islamic family law that allows women to retain their personal income and wealth without contributing to household expenses, the classical conception of inheritance laws actually insures an equal and just distribution of wealth. The current fiqh then assumes fixed gender roles making the husband the sole provider for the family. Using Iran as a case study, I contend that the stubborn survival of pre-modern formulations of Islamic inheritance laws are outdated and do not recognize the social realities of the various roles of women in the public sphere, but instead is grounded in an outdated social paradigm.

Paper presenter: Moulouk Berry (University of Michigan-Dearborn), "Al-Nikah in Contemporary Muslim Shi`i Juridical Writings".
The second paper examines the construction of women's sexuality in contemporary books of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) focusing on the al-nikah genre by scholars like Abu al-Qasim al-Khu’i and Muhammad Hussein Fadl Allah who arguably diverge from classical works on women's sexuality. Can we attribute this shift to contact with modern science and debates on women's sexuality in major sites of intellectual activities (mainly in the West) or to a trend rooted within the legal tradition of Muslim Shi'i jurisprudence?

Paper presenter: Hibba Abugideiri (Villanova University), "Doctors, midwives & Housewives: Challenging Public-Private Boundaries in Colonial Egypt".
Similarly focused on issues of sexuality and the rise of modern science, the third presenter moves the discussion into the colonial era in order to examine the question of modernity as it persists in our understanding of gender progress in developing nations. By interrogating how colonial medicine was constituted through British reforms, the primary concern of this paper is to explain how a modern gender regime? one, not unproblematically, based on modern medicine’s rationalizations of sex differences? came to characterize relations between Egyptian men and women medical practitioners as well as native discourses about gender norms.

Paper presenter: Laura Bier (Georgia Institute of Technology), "Secularism and Intimacy: Debating Family Law in 20th century Egypt".
Keeping the focus on modern Egypt and secular practices relevant to gender identity formation, the final paper looks at the ways definitions of martial intimacy and companionate marriage (and the state’s will to regulate them) became a site of contestation between feminist reformers and members of the Egyptian religious establishment during the 1950s and 1960s. By looking at how constructions of secularism were contingent upon understandings of intimate relations, this paper uncovers how such constructions surprisingly overlapped with religious discourses on marriage as a basis of gendered legal personhood.

In essence, this panel addresses the dominant categories of analysis pertaining to domains of intimacy as a way forward in gender and sexuality studies of the Middle East. As these four papers collectively reveal, such categories integrally linked to intimate, everyday practices carry with them both complicated historical genealogies along with larger international agendas that have often occluded their rootedness in historical and social relations.