Women and Property Rights in al-Andalus and the Maghrib: Social Patterns and Legal Discourse
Islamic Law and Society
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This essay focuses on the implementation of women's property rights in al-Andalus and the Maghrib in the period between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, as reflected in legal sources. An examination of Islamic property and family law, judicial practice, and the attitude of jurists toward women indicates that the majority of Muslim women owned property independently at some point in their lives, that women acquired property at every stage of the life-cycle, and that women played an important role in the intergenerational transmission of property and in keeping familial property intact. At the same time, the legal institutions of guardianship (wilāya) and interdiction (ḥajr) placed constrains on the ability of women to exercise effective control of their property during adulthood. The implementation of women's sharʿī property rights by qādīs and muftīs had important consequences for women's relationships with their families, especially their husbands. That male domination was never complete in propertied families calls into question the characterization of the Muslim family as “patriarchal” and points to the need for a new social, cultural, and economic explanation of the nature of the Muslim family.