Fatwas employed as effective counter-strategy in campaigning for Muslim women’s rights

The Indonesian Women’s Ulama Congress (KUPI) Network or KUPI-network has found issuing fatwas to be a comprehensive and effective way of combatting state policies and laws that discriminate against Muslim women in the country.

Fatwas from KUPI act as a tool for the government to pass or reject legislation in line with the principles of Islam, as it has already been cleared from the perspective of women ulamas, said Dr Nur Rofiah, lecturer in Quranic Interpretation at the Institute for Quranic Science in Jakarta.

She added that KUPI uses the ‘substantive justice’ approach before issuing a fatwa, which considers and integrates the various complexities of women’s lived experiences both biologically and socially into the formulation of the maslahah (a general goodness that can be made into law in Islam).

The first step is to ensure the formulation of maslahah does not create more painful experiences as they undergo menstruation, pregnancy, giving birth, postpartum bleeding and also breastfeeding. Then it is to analyse if women undergo any stigmatism, marginalization, subordination, violence or double burden in their lives within the framework of patriarchy.

“What’s maslahah (good) for men is generally thought to be maslahah (good) for women but in fact it is not. For instance, polygamy and many other circumstances are found to be dangerous for women as their reproductive system and lived realities is very different.”

KUPI’s strategy is to give rise to a new paradigm, by pursuing substantial justice for women in understanding Quranic verses, hadith, opinion of ulamas, the state constitution, and also women’s lived realities.

“The Quran is very just for women, but it is interpretation that is mostly unjust for women.”

Nur was speaking at the international conference “Islam Unsurrendered: Women Rising Against Extremism” in Kuala Lumpur, organised by Sisters in Islam (SIS) and attended by members of civil society organizations from over 14 countries from Southeast Asia, South Asia and the European Union.

Nur is also a national board member of Rahima and Alimat, two Muslim NGOs that organised the first KUPI congress in April 2017 where for the first time in the history of Islam and Indonesia, women ulama were openly and publicly acknowledged, and space was made for them to begin producing fatwas with the Minister of Religious Affairs present.

“The congress is not only about fatwa and issuing fatwa, but also about creating a new paradigm to understanding Islam,” said Nur.