Religion, State Power, and Domestic Violence in Muslim Societies: A Framework for Comparative Analysis


  • Lisa Hajjar

    1. Lisa Hajjar teaches in the Law and Society Program at the University of California– Santa Barbara. She is the author of Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza (University of California Press, forthcoming). Hajjar would like to thank Bashar Tarabieh, Ngone Tine, and Patty Gossman for the research they contributed to this study and Abdullahi An-Na'im and Lynn Welschmann for their comments and suggestions.
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This article focuses on the issue of domestic violence in Muslim societies in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The analytical framework is comparative, emphasizing four factors and the interplay among them: shari'a (Islamic law), state power, intrafamily violence, and struggles over women's rights. The comparative approach historicizes the problem of domestic violence and impunity to consider the impact of transnational legal discourses (Islamism and human rights) on “local” struggles over rights and law. The use of shari'a creates some commonalities in gender and family relations in Muslim societies, notably the sanctioning and maintenance of male authority over female relatives. However, the most important issue for understanding domestic violence and impunity is the relationship between religion and state power. This relationship takes three forms: communalization, in which religious law is separate from the national legal regime; nationalization, in which the state incorporates religious law into the national legal regime; and theocratization, in which the national legal regime is based on religious law.