Research Realizations and Citizenship Equality

So, I started my research many weeks ago but seem to be very late on the blog-posting bandwagon. Even though I started collecting books and reading many weeks ago, I was reluctant to put my thoughts into words because I was unsure about the true direction of my project. The research started out strong; I checked out numerous books from the library, each tackling a specific aspect of my initial topic (Muslim women in India and their property rights). At least fifteen books adorned my dining room table: there were books on Islam, Islam in India, the Women’s Movement in India, Muslim women’s property rights, Muslim women in India, and so on. Intrigued as I was in studying the struggle many Muslim women face in claiming and receiving property inheritance, I kept coming across heated and fascinating arguments about divorced Muslim women and their daily trials in India – moral, familial and judicial. Although I was about halfway through my planned time amount for my research, I changed my topic. I quickly found the arguments, court cases, law and moral discussions surrounding divorce rights to be much more captivating. There is also a greater quantity of literature pertaining to this subject, which is definitely a perk.

After dabbling in some preliminary readings on both the Qur’anic and judicial definitions of divorce in India, I began focusing on a few overarching discussions: citizenship equality, the relationship between minority and women’s rights, and the triple talaq.

I came across the topic of Islamic citizenship when reading Barbara Stowasser’s essay, “Women and Citizenship in the Qur’an” as part of a collection of essays in Women, the Family and Divorce Laws in Islamic History, edited by Amira El Azhary Sonbol. Stowasser emphasizes how Muslims consider themselves not as citizens of a state but instead of the umma – unified Islamic community – and their membership in society depends on their allegiance to God. This “moral citizenship” is independent of gender, for, according to Qur’anic verse 33:35, men and women are equal moral exemplars under God (Stowasser 29). With direct quotes from the Qur’an, Stowasser highlights the quality between men and women as God’s subjects and, because of this, status is not based on gender, but instead on faithfulness to God. We had touched on this topic in the Women in Islam class I took last semester, but it’s definitely helpful to keep in mind when studying the Qur’an’s specific instructions for divorce and the ways in which interpretation have made the process more gendered (I’ll get more into that with the triple talaq portion of my research later).

This discussion of citizenship resurfaces in Vrinda Narain’s work, Reclaiming the Nation, in which she depicts the citizenship inequality prevalent in India. Narain evaluates state citizenship as both a status, set of rights and notion that this status cannot be reduced to a single aspect of identity (Narain 9). Narain scrutinizes India’s policy of noninterference in Muslim Personal Law; she argues that the state’s reluctance to reform family law in efforts to maintain the façade of religious freedom promotion leads to higher vulnerability of women and legitimization of women as “unequal, gendered citizens with a prior religio-cultural identity” (Narain 5). The argument thickens when she speaks specifically about law and the judiciary’s role in pressuring the state to reform family law or even create a uniform civil code.

As I keep trekking forward with my research, I find more and more interesting stories, trials and arguments surrounding Muslim women in India and their fights for divorce. I’m excited to uncover more information and my upcoming blog posts will evaluate minority rights vs. women’s rights and the triple talaq as they relate to Muslim women’s divorce rights.


Works Cited:

Narain, Vrinda. “Introduction: Situating Indian Muslim Women.” Reclaiming the nation Muslim women and the law in India. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.

Stowasser, Barbara. “Women and Citizenship in the Qur’an.” Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History.” Ed. Amira El Azhary Sonbol. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996. Print.


  1. This is such an interesting topic! It’s cool that you were able to change your topic and felt comfortable doing that. I look forward to hearing more about your research. I feel like I know very little about Indian culture and society considering what a large, fast-growing, and prominent country it is, and this is such an important aspect of culture. Very cool stuff.

  2. Great topic! It is interesting to see you cultural, political, and religious practices mesh to form laws and ideals. Many times in the study of Islam, I feel that cultural norms are mistaken as religious norms, such as in the treatment of women in the Middle East, India, and Africa. In that sense, your quote about the equality of men and women in the Quran can explain how the treatment of Muslim women in India has little to do with some sort of religious authority that states the subservience of women. Therefore, any interference by the Indian government would not be encroaching on religious freedoms.