The projects 

The Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham is hosting two British Academy-funded projects on Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Europe and the Middle East lead by Dr Yafa Shanneik together with various academic and non-academic partners in the private and public sector.


The projects investigate the impact of the refugee experiences on marital relationships and family structures among both Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Taking the UK and Germany as examples of European hosts and Jordan as a country in the Middle East which has received a significant number of refugees from both Iraq and Syria, the project examines how these ‘new’ citizens negotiate their politics of belonging in relation to their social relations and integration into their new ‘home’ and what impact this has on their own family lives.

According to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ‘[…] a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and in the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women’. Within this context, the project Negotiating Relationships and Redefining Traditions: Syrian and Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan examines to what extent Iraqi and Syrian women are:

a)     re-define gender orders and ideologies, regarding sexual and conjugal relationships in particular, through the re-interpretation of Islamic normative discourses around Muslim marriage and divorce practices following their migration and re-settlement experiences; 

b)    develop a new understanding of gender socialisation and construct new models of masculinity and femininity that accommodate a greater diversity of ways of living by establishing novel forms of matrimonial practices in their new diasporic contexts and thereby contribute to a re-definition of their religio-cultural heritage. 

Narratives of Displacement

The project’s aims address the following three levels:

a)     Grassroots level: Women and men will be offered awareness sessions on gender socialisation that are culturally sensitive and contribute to particularly refugee women’s changing perceptions of gender orders and family structures. Using visual art and VR productions, women will be offered a space and a tool to reflect on their lives and identify the challenges they face within their new refugee context. In exchange with the research team, they will learn how to find sustainable ways to solve problems of gender inequality among refugees alleviating thereby their mental stress and increasing their wellbeing and resilience. 

b)     Community level: The project will contribute to raising public and civil society awareness. The aim is to promote pro-social actions among Jordanian society in form of increasing public interaction with refugee groups and improve inter-communal relations in order to change public perceptions of refugee women in particular and their alternative ways of living in new forms of sexual and conjugal relationships in Jordan.

c)     Structural level: The project will provide roundtable discussions with jurists, religious leaders and other stakeholders and also social workers who have direct contact with refugee women. The aim is to discuss an understanding of new models of masculinities and femininities that serve the creation of a judicial and social platform in support of refugee women’s lives in Jordan.

This project is a continuation of a pilot study conducted in Europe entitled: ‘Reconsidering Muslim Marriage Practices in Europe: The Case of Iraqi and Syrian War-Widows. This project focuses on Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have not received much academic attention despite their growing numbers in Europe. This interdisciplinary project offers a multi-perspectival view on Muslim marriages. It moves away from gender-specific notions of female vulnerability and examines how and to what extent women employ agency in negotiating and modifying existing Muslim marriage practices.

The project aims at investigating the role, perception and recognition of unconventional Muslim marriage practices among Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have sought asylum or have obtained refugee status in the UK and Germany since 2003.

The project has the following objectives:

  • To provide a comparative analysis of a) the main legal challenges in German and English family law by examining two very recent legal case studies in each country and b) other existing support mechanisms for women to avail of their marital rights. To analyse the ways women, use, interpret and reform normative religious marriage discourses to construct a religious and social system which supports the needs and requirements of their migratory experience and new European diasporic contexts. 

  • By combining top-down and bottom-up research approaches that include legal case studies, ethnographic fieldwork and participatory research approaches, the project offers alternative gender-specific narratives of displacement and Muslim marriage practices within European spaces.


Principal Investigator

Dr Yafa Shanneik

Dr Yafa Shanneik

Lecturer in Islamic Studies

Dynamics and trajectories of gender in Islam within the context of contemporary diasporic and transnational Muslim women’s spaces.

Europe Project: Reconsidering Muslim Marriage Practices in Europe: The Case of Iraqi and Syrian War-Widows 

Salma Eltirafi, LLM

SEltirafi - photo (002)

Salma Eltirafi is a German law graduate and recent alumna of the double degree programme of King's College London (LLB) and Humboldt University of Berlin (LLM).

In 2015, she successfully completed her Master's studies submitting her thesis on the conflict of laws in the application of Islamic law in international divorce cases in Germany, which assessed the compatibility of Islamic divorce laws with the German ordre public as well as the impact of the Rome III Regulation in this regard. Since interning at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg in 2016 Salma's interests have further extended to include the differing interpretations of religious norms and the varying extent to which they have been implemented in family laws throughout the Middle East and North Africa and the effect on women's rights, particularly in North Africa. 

Freddie Meyers (also in Middle East project)

Freddie Meyers, composerFreddie Meyers is an emerging composer who has worked with several professional ensembles including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, and Oxford Philharmonic as well as receiving multiple broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. In November 2017, Freddie conducted the premiere of his first opera A Sketch of Slow Time and has conducted several orchestras including the Oxford University Sinfonietta. 

Freddie has collaborated with London-based Syrian oud player Rihab Azar, on two large scale works for oud and live electronics All at Sea and See her. These two works emerged as part of collaboration between Freddie and visual artist Rachel Gadsden where these two musical pieces provided the backdrop for a live performance painting by Gadsden. This collaboration seeks to deconstruct the fixed ideas of sound and sight as unique and separate forms of artistic expression creating a new emergent, multi-sensory art practice. In October 2018, they travelled to the Misk Art festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, performing their piece, Ships of the Desert for live painting, trumpet, oud, and electronics. Over 2019 and 2020 the pair hope to work develop their practice even further, building on the success of their first three pieces. 

Though Freddie’s work with Middle Eastern sounds was initially born out of his work with the oud, this has proved influence to his most recent orchestral piece Malakbel, commissioned by the Oxford Sinfonia and premiered in January 2019. Malakbel provided a reflection on the ancient Roman city of Palmyra in Syria, its destruction by ISIS in 2015, the hope to rebuild and memories of the past.

Professor Annelies Moors

Professor Annelies Moors

Professor Annelies Moors studied Arabic at the University of Damascus and Arabic and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. She holds the chair for contemporary Muslim societies at the department of anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.

From 2001-2008 she has been the Amsterdam chair of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. She has held visiting positions at the University of San’a, Yemen, and was Honorably Visiting Professor at the London School of Fashion (London University of the Arts).

She was the primary investigator of an international NORFACE research programme on ‘The emergence of Islamic fashion in Europe’, and of the NWO Cultural Dynamics programme on ‘Islamic cultural practices and performances: New youth cultures in Europe’. Currently, she is the PI of the NWO programme Muslim Activism in the Netherlands after 1989 and of the ERC advanced grant ‘Problematizing “Muslim Marriages”: Ambiguities and Contestations’.

She has published widely on gender, nation and religion in such fields as Muslim family law and Islamic marriages, wearing gold, the visual media (postcards of Palestine), migrant domestic labor, Islamic fashion, and wearing face-veils. She is also a core group member of the Arab Families Working Group (AFWG).

Dr Nof Nasser-Eddin

Nof NE

Dr Nof Nasser-Eddin is co-director and co-founder of the Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration (CTDC), where she manages and conducts research-led advocacy, training and education projects on gender and sexual rights, displacement and development in the MENA region.

Her work on displacement, gender and sexuality have been published in peer reviewed journals and books. Her co-authored work with CTDC – which included work on gender and the refugee crisis and policy briefs – has been cited by major organisations including UNHCR, IOM as well as by leading academics and research institutions. She has also contributed to the latest publication of Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative: Principles for Global Action.  

She has over twelve years of experience working on women, gender and sexuality, migration and refugee issues in the MENA region and Europe. Nof has extensive knowledge in gender analysis in the context of the Middle East and North Africa. She has further undertaken an array of consulting roles in the region, generally focusing on gender, sexual and bodily rights, refugeehood and displacement.

Dr Nasser-Eddin has worked with many local and international organisations in the region, including CARE International, COSV, UNHCR, UN Women, Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship and the British Council. She has also developed and delivered educational programs about a wide host of gender and sexuality related issues, particularly in relation to approaching gender concepts in a deconstructive and de-colonial way.

Nof works on the ground with local and grassroots organisations in the Middle East and North Africa on different issues such as advocacy, organisational development, research, capacity building, educational programs, project design and monitoring and evaluation. Her approach addressing sexual and gender rights utilises various tools of advocacy and campaigning, such as the production of films, the publication of research papers, reports, and workshops and public speaking.

Professor Mathias Rohe

Professor Mathias Rohe

Professor Mathias Rohe holds the Chair for Civil Law, Private International Law and Comparative Law at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany) and is the founding director of the Erlangen Centre for Islam and Law in Europe.

Middle East Project: Negotiating Relationships and Redefining Traditions: Syrian and Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan


Sahar Almakhamreh

Sahar AlmakhamrehAssociate Professor in Social Work, German Jordanian University

My research focusses on Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan. I am a member of the founding Committee of the UNHCR’s ‘MENA Civil Society Network for Displacement’. I am also a member of the Community Protection Working Group at UNHCR and Mental Health Psychosocial Groups, which support and analyse policies regarding refugees. Between2013-2016, I took the lead and developed MOUs with key humanitarian aid institutions, such as UNHCR, UNICEF, CARITAS, Jordanian River Foundation as well as the Jordanian Higher Council for Family Affairs, working with refugees. I developed the master’s Programme in Social Work as well as the Professional Diploma on Migrants and Refugees at the German Jordanian University. I have devised models for social work interventions among marginal groups in Jordan, such as Iraqi refugees and Bedouin communities, in particular regarding their social and health needs, as part of projects funded by the AHRC and Anna LindhFoundation.

Rana Dajani

Rana DajaniDirector of Taghyeer (NGO in Jordan), and Associate Professor at the Hashemite University. 

I have worked extensively with Syrian, Iraqi and other refugees, adults and youth, in Jordan. As Associate Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, I focused in particular on the epigenetics of trauma among refugees and across generations. Besides my academic work, I am director of Taghyeer, a non-profit NGO in Jordan, where I research on humanitarian conditions among refugee groups and have access to other NGOs working with relevant refugee communities. As a member of the UN Women Jordan Advisory Council, I have played a central role in advancing projects with the UN. I have previously collaborated with Yale University in research on young refugees in Jordan.

For my work on encouraging reading among refugee children in Jordan, I was awarded the UNESCO International Literacy Prize 2017 and World Literacy Council Award 2018. In 2017, I organised the First Gender Summit for the Arab World in Jordan.

Norma Deseke

norma-desekeNorma Deseke is a Social Anthropologist currently writing up her PhD thesis on technology innovation at the University of Cambridge, UK. Her ethnography is based on 15 months of field research in Barcelona. Norma is especially interested in creatives’ visions for social change, their human-machine interaction and new modes of organisation facilitated by their globalised and transdisciplinary work/life experiences. She previously studied at the University of Vienna and at the Australian National University and joined BeAnotherLab in 2015.

Dr Rachel Gadsden (also in Europe project)

Rachel Gadsen

Dr Rachel Gadsden is a British multi award winning visual and performance artist and artistic director, who spent her formative years in the Middle East. Expressionist in artistic approach, she creates both solo and collaborative art commissions and projects nationally and internationally through, painting, performance, digital film and animation, with the object of developing cross-cultural dialogues considering universal notions of humanity. Gadsden currently focuses on UK/Arab collaborations, engaging mainstream and vulnerable/disabled individuals and communities in UK & the Arab region, celebrating identity, culture and spirit.

In 2008 Gadsden was appointed the first contemporary artist for Hampton Court Palace 2008 – 2009 for Historic Royal Palaces, and has subsequently undertaken 4 major commissions for UK Parliament (2009 – 2015) and for 4 recent Paralympic Games. London 2012 Cultural Olympiad commissions followed - Unlimited Global Alchemy and Starting Line. In 2013 Gadsden represented the UK, creating “This Breathing World” for Qatar – UK Year of Culture 2013, for British Council and Qatari Government, HRH Prince Charles formally opened the exhibition.

In 2014 Gadsden created a digital artwork for the Sochi, Winter Paralympic Heritage Torch Lighting. Gadsden also embarked on Al Noor ~ Fragile Vision, a multi-cultural collaborative UK and Middle East project and she completed 14 Stations of the Cross paintings for St Joseph’s Cathedral, Abu Dhabi.

Gadsden’s recent work includes It was Paradise (UK & Palestine Occupied Territories), an International Unlimited Commission 2016-2019, exhibitions and performance art commissions for the Misk Art Foundation and Misk Art festival 2018 and 2019, Saudi Arabia, a project, art exhibition and performance commission for Advance Charity with domestic abuse survivors, FIFA – Hyundai art and film commission for FIFA Women’s World Cup Museum exhibition 2019, Paris, and Global “True Passion” campaign, and invitations to be a key note speaker at Arts Activated 2019 Conference, Sydney and a commission and collaboration in collaboration with ADAHK, Hong Kong.

Gadsden’s projects have been exhibited widely throughout UK and Europe and in Australia, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, Jordan, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and the USA.

Daniëlle Hooijmans

Danielle HooijmansDaniëlle Hooijmans  is a visual artist, educator and feminist. Through drawing, photographing and film making she is exploring how sexuality is related to identity and gender in cultural and social perspective, she is currently working on a performative film that will raise questions about female sexuality in different cultures and its relation to freedom and self exploration. She holds a Bachelor in theatre and art, Danielle works with BeAnotherLab in various projects over the last five year, and she is the founder of Zimela, a NGO who supports women empowerment in townships in South Africa by teaching creative development through art and design.

Farah Al Taji, PhD

Postdoc at Al-Balqa Applied University in Jordan

Farah al TajiFarah is a researcher, educator and consultant in the field of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. In January 2019, she has been awarded with the title of PhD in management engineering from the university of politecnico di Milano in Italy, her research interest focuses on social entrepreneurship, hybrid organizations and human capital. 

In 2011, She received her Master of Science in Engineering Management degree from Brunel University in the United Kingdom.

Since 2018, Farah leads a research project in Jordan in collaboration with We Love Reading, a social enterprise, to Investigate the evolution of women's social entrepreneurship intention during volunteerism.

In 2014, Farah worked with Think Unlimited a non-for-profit organization, where she co-developed and facilitated a Social Innovation course at two universities in Jordan. From 2012-2014 she volunteered with the Arab Innovation Network a non-for- Profit organization, where she co-organized two annual conferences of which aim to foster innovation in the Arab World through connecting like-minded people and nurturing innovation at a grassroots level.

In 2010, Farah led an initiative to build a playground at Al-baq’a refugee camp in Jordan.

Maram Mohammed Thenibat

Maram Mohammed ThenibatLawyer, legal consultant and specialist in mediation family law

I work as a Lawyer in civil and criminal law and family law, legal mediator in my law firm with my team which is the first of its kind in the Middle East, specialized in Family Legal Law Mediation.

I Established (Family Rights Organization) which is affiliated with the Ministry of Social Development in Jordan.  Providing legal consultant to women, family, woman and men in cases that are held in family courts without charging them, and provide family mediation service without the need to go to the courts by organizing agreements to preserve the rights of members of the family and maintain family ties.

Providing free legal advice to families and women. We hold awareness lectures in charitable societies and at every family or women's gathering to educate women and men about their rights and teach them how to manage their legal and family life, as well as providing marital counselling to families with behavioural or legal problem.

I have programs on YouTube as a human rights activist in which we talk about the laws governing the family and children and participate in many activities to work on the development of laws governing the family and relate to women ,men and children rights, because we care about family not just woman.