Marriage and Forced Migration: New Understandings of Conjugal Relationships in the Middle East and North Africa

  • Edited by: Yafa Shanneik, Mulki al-Sharmani and Farah Al Taji

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has experienced, since the beginning of the 21st century, large-scale forced movement of populations who fled wars in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. The absorption of millions of these refugees, including (un)recognised asylum seekers, in neighbouring countries creates a number of significant socio-economic and political challenges. This massive forced population movement also resulted in ruptures of traditional understandings of family structures and gender roles defined by religio-cultural norms and values of both new-comers and of receiving societies.

This edited volume seeks to analyse conjugal relationships and matrimonial practices (marriage and divorce) as they are being debated and developed in theory and practice in the MENA region. We aim to explore to what extent the conflict- and crises-induced displacement of people contribute to the emergence of new understandings of family structures and relationships and their wider religious and socio-economic context. While there is a growing body of research on gender and sexuality in the MENA region and legislative or judicial approaches towards questions of Islamic family law, fewer studies have given attention to the impact of the significant refugee flows on the emergence of new conjugal relationship norms and practices in the MENA region.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, the collapse of the Libyan state, the war in Yemen and the conflict in Syria and subsequent civil wars and social unrest have had an enormous long-term political, legal, socio-religious impact on the MENA region as a whole. The 21st century waves of refugees placed massive pressure on the infrastructure of receiving countries, such as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, allowing, therefore, international humanitarian organizations with their personnel, knowledge and funding into the everyday governance of this new refugees population. The services, financial aid and support provided by these organizations also shape existing Islamic normative discourses and exert pressure on religious scholars, political figures and refugee communities to develop new Islamic frameworks on marriage and divorce laws and practices.

The volume aims to examine changes in marriage, divorce and other related questions within the following interlinked three levels:

1) as defined and renegotiated within Muslim legal traditions and cultural norms and values which have been the sources of authority determining women’s rights, gender roles and relations;

2) as laid out through legal and political frameworks with its local, transnational and historical particularities;

3) as described and practiced by people themselves through memories, oral narratives and representations of their lived experiences.

Different to other studies on marriage and forced migration, this volume applies top-down as well as bottom-up approaches and adopts national as well as transnational perspectives. This combinations allows the comparative study of new understandings of conjugal relationships in post-conflict displacement destinations in the MENA region. It thereby fills a gap in existing literature on marriage, gender and sexuality in the MENA region by: a) linking two currently distinct research areas together: women in Islam and forced displacement of refugees; b) confronting current issues under new perspectives beyond religious and gender essentialism and neo-orientalist stereotypes.

We invite chapter proposals from various academic disciplines and fields (such as Anthropology, Law, Sociology, Religious Studies, Migration and Diaspora Studies, Gender Studies, Management and Organizational Studies etc.) with diverse theoretical perspectives. We intend to bring together researchers whose work is grounded in solid empirical research in relation to broader societal developments. We are, however, also interested in conceptual and methodological discussions on migration and diaspora within the MENA region. We, therefore, welcome submission of chapters discussing a variety of research approaches and unconventional research methods in gender and migration studies such as art, film, theatre, music and new technologies.

We invite consideration of questions which may include some of the following:

  • How are national legal and religious provisions regulating marriage and divorce practices of refugees? How are they dealing with lived realities of refugees, such as lack of documentations, non-presence and non-response of spouses, and the challenges in operating transnationally with the legal and political systems in the refugees’ home countries?
  • How are family laws in the MENA region translated on the ground in the daily lives of refugees?
  • How are refugees, through their marriage and other family practices, negotiating, challenging, or redefining the socio-religious and legal frameworks governing marital affairs in their countries of residence?
  • What is the role of (national and transnational) religious institutions and/or new religious actors in changing the public perception of normative marriage practices within and among host and refugee communities?
    • What roles do local, national and international humanitarian aid agencies play in changing refugees’ and host societies’ understandings of matrimonial norms, including interpretations of spousal rights and roles and the notion of guardianship?
    • How have religious, state and human rights actors alike sought to approach and resolve problems arising from unregistered religious marriages, including marriages with minors, stipulations of divorce, and issues of custody and inheritance?

Deadline for abstract submission: 15 September 2020

Abstracts of 300-500 words need to specify the empirical research and/or methodological and conceptual discussions the chapter is based on and the broader questions addressed. We also need a short bio of up to 200 words. The abstract and the bio need to be sent as one email attachment in MS Word format to Yafa Shanneik: y.shanneik@bham.ac.uk with ‘abstract and bio’ and your last name in the subject heading.

Key Dates

15 September 2020: Deadline for abstract submission

30 September 2020: Notification of acceptance

15 March 2021: Deadline for written chapters (8000- 10.000 words, including a list of references and footnotes).

The series editor of The Politics of Marriage and Gender: Global Issues in Local Contexts series (Rutgers University Press, rutgersuniversitypress.org/search-list?series=politics-of-marriage-and-gender-global-issues-in-local-contexts) has expressed strong interest in the volume.

This edited volume is part of the on-going British Academy funded project: Negotiating Relationships and Redefining Traditions: Syrian and Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan based at the University of Birmingham (UK). For further information on the project, contact Dr Yafa Shanneik (PI), email: y.shanneik@bham.ac.uk.