Accommodating Sharia: : A Feminist Institutionalist Analysis of Sharia law in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 02:19 authored by Amira Aftab
The debates around Sharia law in Western multicultural societies are ongoing, and often draw on feminist arguments opposing multiculturalism to illustrate the "perils" of accommodating minority religious groups. An alternative focus of Sharia discussions is to consider the possibilities of legal pluralism within the state, and whether accommodation of minority religious laws is even possible. Whilst interesting, these debates do not adequately address how and why Sharia councils and tribunals have seemingly flourished in the United Kingdom, but not so in the comparable multicultural contexts of Australia and Canada. This thesis moves beyond the existing discussions of legal pluralism and the normative value of multiculturalism to examine the competing political interests that arise in debates around accommodating religious laws (specifically Sharia law), and the issues of gender equality. Drawing on theories of feminist institutionalism, I will offer a comparative analysis of the political conditions within Australia, Canada, and the UK. The key questions explored are: how has each institution influenced the experience with Sharia in each state; and what are the outcomes for women that arise within the institutional landscape. This institutional discussion will focus on two formal institutions, the legal structures of each state, and state multicultural policies; as well as two informal institutions, the influence of dominant Christian religious groups, and informal networks of men. These formal and informal institutions are examined to provide context, and better understand the development of the Sharia debate and experience in each country, as well as the outcomes for women. State law is often positioned within these debates as the "best" alternative for gender justice, as it is considered secular and "neutral". However, this fails to account for the reality that institutions, such as the law, are gendered. By adopting a feminist institutionalist approach, this thesis aims to move beyond the liberal rights framework that is typically used to discuss Muslim women and Sharia in the West. By doing so, we are better able to understand the institutional nuances that shape the experience with Sharia within countries such as Australia, Canada and the UK.