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Islamic Marital Economy beyond the Middle East
Abstract by Samira Musleh On Session VII-18  (Islamic Law and Jurisprudence)

On Saturday, December 3 at 8:30 am

2022 Annual Meeting

As a socio-economic institution, marriages generally enshrine two forms of labor: unpaid and paid. Unpaid labor, which constitutes housework and care work in the family, has long been a central topic of inquiry in feminist scholarship. This form of labor ensures smooth operation of the household and is conceptualized, in the Marxist tradition, as the labor of social reproduction essential for the generation and sustenance of workers outside of the household. Paid labor, on the other hand, is necessary for the financial upkeep of a marriage and has predominantly been studied in anthropological scholarship on kinship and gift economies. Both forms of marital labor have historically been gendered: unpaid labor is feminized, and paid labor is masculinized. While gendered labor in Muslim contexts received significant scholarly attention, the study of Muslim marital economies has been rarer and confined to the Middle East. Moreover, the intersection of labor and money in Bangladeshi Muslim marriages has been neglected in the study of both Middle Eastern and South Asian studies, considering Bangladesh’s peripheral geographic status, despite being home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. My research, based on ethnographic, textual, and media analysis of Bangladeshi Muslim marriages, draws crucial connections between the abundant existing scholarship on Middle Eastern and Bengali Muslim marital economies. Based on the findings from ethnographic interviews of Bangladeshi Muslim women about their negotiation of cultural, religious, and personal values on what constitutes an equitable division of labor and financial responsibilities in a marriage, I argue that engaging in the incorporation of Islamic marital norms in places historically outside of its birthplace can enlighten our understanding of gendered labor and economic practices in the Middle East and the impact of postcolonial capitalism on the interpretation of Islamic legal and ethical texts by scholars and practitioners alike. The impact of multigenerational households, stigmatization of paid labor for affluent women, the hindu religious tradition of dowry, as well as the cultural meaning and cost of divorce give Bengali Muslim marital economy its unique characteristics. Instead of introducing Bengali Muslims as a detached addition to ethnographic and feminist inquiries into Middle Eastern marriages, my goal is to analyze how Islamic marital customs changed across geographic, temporal, and linguistic boundaries and how non-Arabic-speaking Muslims engaged with Arabic textual traditions.
Geographic Area
Islamic World
Sub Area
Gender/Women's Studies