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Musawah ('equality'; in Arabic: مساواة) is a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, led by feminists "seeking to reclaim Islam and the Koran for themselves".[1][2]



Twelve women met in Istanbul as the planning committee in March 2007, from countries around the world: Egypt, the Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey and the United Kingdom.[3]

Musawah was officially launched in Kuala Lampur in February 2009, at a meeting of 250 Muslim activists, scholars, legal practitioners and policy-makers from 47 countries.[1] Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian-American journalist and Musawah member, commented on this founding moment: "Panel discussions and dinner talk [...] were heated, but not about headscarves or education. We had much heavier issues on our minds — like a woman’s right to initiate divorce, how to protect women against clerics who say Islam gives a husband the right to beat his wife, fighting forced marriage. In other words, wrestling Islam back from the men who use it against us."[4] The discussions were supported in part by research on the impact on the lives of women of islamic family law, disseminated over the preceding decade by Women Living Under Muslim Laws.[5]

The name "Musawah" comes from an Arabic word that translates as "equality".[6]


Musawah's advocacy draws from four primary sources:[6][7]

  • Islamic teachings;
  • universal human rights;
  • national constitutional guarantees of equality; and
  • "the lived realities of women and men".

In practice, this has translated into advocacy around issues such as reforming divorce laws in Muslim countries.[6] Tools used by Musawah to advance this goal have included research into the differences between traditional Muslim family laws and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, publication of books on Islamic jurisprudence, and toolkits for advocates.[8][3]

Role And ChallengesEdit

One of Musawah's co-founders, Malaysian activist Zainah Anwar, offered this perspective on Musawah's role in the broader women's and human rights movements: "What Musawah brings to the table is a rich and diverse collection of interpretations, juristic opinions and principles that makes it possible to read equality and justice in Islam, and construe these twin values at national and international levels. It is a vital contribution at a time when democracy, human rights and women's rights constitute the modern ethical paradigm of today's world."[9]

Challenges in Musawah's work include ongoing debates around the multiple interpretations of the Koran, and the defence of a human rights interpretation from within Islam, rather than a secular human rights framework.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Segran, Elizabeth (4 December 2013). "The Rise of the Islamic Feminists". The Nation Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  2. ^ "Schott's Vocab: Musawah". The New York Times. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b Larsen, Lena, Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Moe, Christian, Vogt, Kari (2013). Gender and Equality in Muslim Family Law: Justice and Ethics in the Islamic Legal Tradition. I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd ISBN 9781848859227.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Eltahawy, Mona (17 July 2009). "Headscarves and Hymens". The Huffington Post Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  5. ^ Balchin, Cassandra (December 18, 2009). "Last but not least: CEDAW and family law". Open Democracy. Archived from the original on April 11, 2019. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Emon, Anver M.; Ellis, Mark; Glahn, Benjamin (2012-10-11). "Ch. 17: Musawah, CEDAW, and Muslim Family Laws in the 21st Century". Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law. OUP Oxford. p. 309. ISBN 9780191645693.
  7. ^ "About Musawah". Musawah. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  8. ^ Abu-Lughod, Lila (2013-11-12). Do Muslim Women Need Saving?. Harvard University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780674726338.
  9. ^ Anwar, Zainah (5 March 2009). "Bearers of change". The New York Times Retrieved 11 June 2016.

External linksEdit