On straw mats in a two-room building in the bustling city of Pudukkottai in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, a band of about 30 Muslim women in animated debate are making history. Dicing through tales of marital woes and family travails, streams of tears mixing with belly laughter, they could be extras in a Dixie Chicks music video.
Instead, they are part of a radical new generation of "law breakers" in the Muslim world: women who are challenging laws written in the name of Islam by men. And they offer many people hope for realizing social justice, human rights, and even political reform in the Muslim world.
From Tamil Nadu to Toledo, Ohio, women scholars, activists, and community leaders—and the men who support them—are challenging traditional interpretations of Islamic law by going back to the four cornerstones of the law: the Quran (the holy book of Islam), the Sunnah (the traditions and sayings of the prophet), ijma' (consensus of scholars), and qiyas (analogical deductions from the three).
In Barcelona, Spain, this past November, 10 Muslim women took to the dais for the second Congress on Islamic Feminism, this one focusing on the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) on matters related to family law. From Indonesia, activist Lily Munir, a Dr. Ruth of the Muslim world with straight talk about sex, challenged Islamic polygamy laws that allow men to have more than one wife. Off stage, Sudanese scholar Balghis Badri huddled with Tunisian scholar Amel Grami over how to effectively challenge the notion that Islamic law requires head coverings, or hijab.