by Jonas Svensson
The dissertation focuses on interpretations of Islam that claim compatibility with international human rights norms in the context of women’s rights. These interpretations are seen as parts of an on-going contemporary international debate on women’s human rights and Islam that engages Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Existing UN-formulated international human rights schemes are a basic starting point. Texts by three internationally renowned Muslim scholars – philosopher and religious studies scholar Riffat Hassan, sociologist Fatima Mernissi and legal studies and human rights scholar Abdullahi Ahmed an-Na‘im – constitute the main part of the material studied. These three individuals become exponents for what is termed an “accommodation-position” among Muslims participating in the debate. The analysis covers methods used in the attempts to provide interpretations of the basic Islamic religious sources – the Qur’an, the hadith-literature and Muslim historiography – which accommodate international human rights norms in the context of women’s rights. Through this activity the exponents produce versions of Islam that compete with other contemporary versions of the religious tradition for general recognition, as the ‘correct’ representation of the divine will. The study also takes into consideration techniques used in the texts to convince different audiences both of the legitimacy of the interpretations presented, and of the interpreters’ authority.
A general overview of the international debate on women’s human rights and Islam is provided in order to outline the context of the versions of Islam suggested by Hassan, Mernissi and an-Na‘im. The texts are analysed as parts of this international debate, including their social functions within the debate. One of the questions asked concerns why these interpretations receive international attention and what purposes they fulfil in the international debate. They are also analysed as parts of an on-going, worldwide discussion among Muslim religious activists concerning, for example, the role of religion in society and the issue of religious authority. Theoretical inspiration is found in the academic fields of Islamology, the sociology of knowledge, discourse analysis, gender theory and theories on cultural globalisation.