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Samuel Kigar

Ph.D. Candidate
Islamic Studies
The Graduate Program in Religion
Duke University
Box 909624
Durham, North Carolina 27708
U.S.A.
Samuel.kigar@duke.edu
Paper abstract: Gender, Law, and Social Change in North Africa
The Guardianship of Gender: Political Theologies of Moroccan Gender
Activism
Significant work has been devoted to analyzing modern Moroccan gender
activism from sociological, legal, and political scientific perspectives. Yet, the role of
religion in these activist movements—feminist and Islamist alike—remains
ambiguous. This is so, in part, because scholars usually focus on a narrow
conception of Islamic law, leaving open space for the oft-heard accusation that
various parties instrumentalize Sharī‘a in attempt to advance their causes. This
paper reappraises the role of religion in these gender movements by analyzing
political theology, rather than a narrow conception of law. By political theology I refer
to instances where the political community is construed in relation to a religious
order. Here, legal codes take on new significance because they relate to the
potential salvation of the community. Examining the political theology of gender
activism allows us to see the much broader linkages between religion, the Moroccan
political system, and gender.
Specifically, I discuss three key strands of contemporary Moroccan political
theology: a critical traditionalist strand, a feminist strand, and an Islamist strand. I
read the political theories of Idris Hammadi, Raja El Habti, Fatima Mernissi, Nadia
Yassine, and Abdessalam Yassine as examples of these different strands. These
thinkers are associated with diverse disciplines and backgrounds; but considering
them together as political theologians allows for a comparative assessment of their
work and demonstrates their skill and importance as political thinkers. I examine
these thinkers’ conceptions of sovereignty as they are expounded through concepts
familiar to Islamic political theory, including trusteeship (khilāfa) and dominion
(wilāya). In each case, I show how their vision of the religious-qua-political

community has important consequences for how they think about gender. like the guardianship of women by men. cannot be thought of as separate from another meaning of the Arabic word wilāya: sovereignty or dominion. yet mutable relationship between religion and gender in the Moroccan political sphere. Key issues in personal status law. and activists to assess the deeply rooted. . Before gender guardianship could be abolished—as was done in the 2004 reforms to the Moroccan Personal Status Code. or sovereignty. or wilāya. advocates. the Mudawwanna al-ah ḥwāl alshakhs ḥiyya—national guardianship. This research is important not only because it sheds new light on an important academic debate but also because it allows policy makers. had to be altered.