1. Islamic Jurisprudence
Karamah is actively committed to supporting the rights of Muslim women
domestically and globally. Karamah has developed gender-equitable Islamic jurisprudence, based on serious research in foundational and classical sources that is shared with Muslim women jurists in various countries. Currently, Karamah is devising a unique approach to involve these jurists and other Muslim women leaders directly in legal exchange throughout the Muslim world.
Over the last three years, the National Endowment for Democracy has extended three successive grants to Karamah. With this funding we have established aninternational network of Muslim women jurists allowing them to dialogue with each other on core issues affecting Muslim women.
To date, attempts to improve the legal realities of Muslim women’s lives have focused largely on public education, especially within the legal and Islamic communities. Our experience reflects a dire need for improvement in laws governing everyday matters, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, domestic violence, education, political participation, and economic rights. Jurists in the network have initiated discussions of these issues within an Islamic framework, guided by the Qur’an, hadith and sunnah (the words and example of the Prophet), the Islamic legal tradition, and the concept of ijtihad (jurisprudential interpretation). We have traveled to and organized jurists’ workshops in countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria, in order to better understand the problems and discuss possible solutions. We soon plan on expanding our workshops and programs into other parts of the Muslim World, including South Africa and South East Asia.
Despite their current crisis, Muslim women reject secular, Western-inspired feminist views on reform. They remain attached to and assertive of their faith and cultures, while at the same time expressing frustration with traditional patriarchal views. This fact, which confused Western feminists, has been recognized from the outset by Karamah. This has opened a new avenue for reform, that of gender-equitable, faith-based jurisprudence. Such jurisprudence presents a solid basis for change from within in Muslim societies, while at the same time empowering women by raising their consciousness. It exposes misogynist patriarchal claims in Islamic law for what they are - human prejudice, rather than divine decree.
Karamah brings together like-minded women jurists and provides them with the tools and support they need as they work together to educate and inform women and their communities globally. Karamah provides a serious and thoughtful religious basis for the improvement of women’s rights and status.
Karamah continues to research and produce new works helpful to both women and men in understanding the basic tenets and spirit of Islam, especially with respect to women’s rights. Professor al-Hibri is in the process of completing a long-awaited book on the Islamic marriage contract in American courts. Other jurists in the network continue to identify and research other important issues in their communities. This research is shared with Karamah and we post it on our website. Thus the Karamah website reflects the state of Muslim women worldwide, as well as the issues of concern to them.
2. Law and Leadership Program
Karamah’s Law and Leadership Summer Program (LLSP) has expanded over the last four years to become one of the three major programs within Karamah. It is an influential and relevant force in the lives of participating young Muslim women. The program has helped shape the participants’ ideas about leadership, activism, and progressive change in their individual communities.
The program instills leadership qualities in talented women by providing them with tools that help them better understand and navigate their surroundings. Additionally, it offers them a serious and comprehensive Islamic worldview that anchors their being in the world, and guides them in addressing issues of importance to them. By doing so, Karamah is empowering women, and encouraging them to play an active role in the positive development of their communities. It is helping them articulate their rights thoughtfully within their own religious and cultural contexts. Armed with valuable leadership and conflict resolution skills, as well as powerful jurisprudential tools, they become capable of negotiating much needed change within their own communities by utilizing non-confrontational constructive methods.
Established in 2002, Karamah’s three-week Law and Leadership Summer Program has influenced the way participating Muslim women think about and approach law, leadership, and Islamic jurisprudence. Every summer, Karamah selects fifteen to twenty women out of a large pool of applicants. The selection is based on the leadership abilities of these women, as well as their commitment to their communities and Karamah’s constructive approach to change. The participants spend three weeks in daily intensive and thought-provoking workshops. Past workshop topics include: Leadership Training, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Domestic Violence in Muslim Communities, Introduction to Islamic Jurisprudence, basics of Islamic family law, and Comparative Law. Last summer, a sizable contingent of participants from Europe joined our summer program. A similar contingent is expected this summer. We also continue to have participants from the United States, Canada, Africa, and Asia.
Karamah is now considering expanding the program to other times of the year, as well as making it available in the evening to working women, and globally to women jurists and leaders. Karamah is also studying ways of developing the curriculum so as to adapt it even more effectively to Islamic values and positive cultural customs.
3. Domestic Violence Initiative
Domestic violence against women is a national crisis. Immigrant women, including Muslim women, face tougher hurdles because of linguistic and cultural differences. The problem is compounded by the fact that these women tend to be ignorant of their immigration status and related legal rights. In fact, they do not even understand the legal structure of the country to which they have been often brought by their husbands. As a result, immigrant women often do not report abuse, and further do not have either faith or trust in the legal and social system. This state of affairs is devastating to them, because it isolates them and often leads them to tolerate their own abuse and participate in their own oppression. Karamah is committed to change this situation through public education about domestic abuse and the law. Furthermore, Karamah is dedicated to eliminating any form of discrimination Muslim women face in society and reducing the obstacles that stand in the way of reporting abuse so that Muslim women can live their life in the United States with dignity.
Muslim women all over the country reach out to Karamah regarding cases of domestic violence, divorce, immigration law, and civil rights. Although other organizations provide similar services, what makes Karamah’s services unique is that we analyze and provide solutions from both an Islamic jurisprudential perspective and an American legal perspective. We give direct Islamic legal advice in areas such as marriage, divorce, and rights within the Muslim family. Further, we advocate for the rights of Muslim women in American courts by advising lawyers and service providers on how to deal with Muslim women and Islamic law. We also provide referrals to pro bono or reduced fee attorneys throughout the country.
Through our presentations and lectures, we raise legal consciousness about the importance of respecting the jurisprudence of Islamic family law, in particular that of the Islamic marriage contracts. We believe that in the long run, we are helping Muslim women, their communities, and the American legal system understand each other. Typically, we stay involved in the most serious cases on a long-term basis, ensuring that women are receiving all relevant and necessary assistance in reaching a solution to all their problems. We also provide referrals to culturally sensitive mental health services in an effort to offer a holistic approach and truly understand all the facets of the cases that we receive.
A recent sizable grant from the Department of Justice has allowed Karamah to develop its Domestic Violence programs, by making them more effective and increasing their reach. As a result, we expect this part of Karamah to grow significantly in the next few years and become better able to address domestic violence needs and issues in our communities.
1. A MORE PERFECT UNION
2. The Harvard University Pluralism Project
3. INS NSEERS Registration Requirement (2002)
4. Co Sponsorship of Fordham Law School Religion and the Law Conference (December 1998)
5. MuslimJD Email Mailing List (begun Spring 1997)
6. Conflict Resolution Project (begun December, 1996)