A grant of £49,616 from the British Academy has given the green-light to a collaborative research project with both the University of Erlangen/Nuremberg and the University of Amsterdam. The project will bring a new perspective on Muslim marriages by placing the experiences and voices of women at the centre of research.
Dr Yafa Shanneik will lead the project ‘Reconsidering Muslim Marriage Practices in Europe: The Case of Iraqi and Syrian War-Widows’. It will focus on Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have settled in the UK and Germany since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Using innovative ethnographic, legal and artistic research approaches, the project will examine how these women have developed and use new forms of Muslim marriages.
Moving away from notions of female vulnerability, it will examine how and to what extent women are negotiating and modifying marriage practices, and how unconventional marriage practices socially disdained before displacement have become reasonable options. Examples include ‘unregistered’ (‘urfi), ‘temporary’ (mut‘a) (unique to Shia Islam) and ‘visiting’ (misyar) marriages.
These alternative marriage practices contain different legal and financial obligations and entitlements for both spouses than a permanent marriage and offer more flexibility. While they can have an exploitative nature, they can also become means for women’s empowerment and secure their autonomy, independence and freedom.
Through working with the visual artist Rachel Gadsden, the project will offer women an alternative platform to articulate artistically their feelings and views of marriage practices and the challenges they face within European legal systems in recognising these marriages.
As well as life narratives and artwork being produced by participants, the project will also analyse two recent UK and German legal case studies to further investigate the extent that these new marriages are recognised within the law. Finally, it will look at what other alternative support mechanisms, outside of secular legal systems, exist in the two countries for women to inform them of their marital rights.