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Criminalizing Sexuality: Zina Laws as Violence against Women in Muslim Contexts

Publication Date: 
March, 2010
Source: 
Ziba Mir Hosseini

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Abstract: Islamic legal tradition treats any sexual contact outside a legal marriage as a crime. The main category of such crimes is zina, defined as any act of illicit sexual intercourse between a man and woman. In the late twentieth century, the resurgence of Islam as a political and spiritual force led to the revival of zina laws and the creation of new offences that criminalize consensual sexual activity and authorize violence against women. Activists have campaigned against these new laws on human rights grounds.

In this discussion paper, I show how zina laws and the criminalization of consensual sexual activity can also be challenged from within Islamic legal tradition. Far from mutually opposed, approaches from Islamic studies, feminism and human rights perspectives can be mutually reinforcing, particularly in mounting an effective campaign against revived zina laws. By exploring the intersections between religion, culture and law that legitimate violence in the regulation of sexuality, the paper aims to contribute to the development of a contextual and integrated approach to the abolition of zina laws. In so doing, I hope to broaden the scope of the debate over concepts and strategies of the SKSW Campaign.

Author: Ziba Mir Hosseini

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