Blog posts

A painting from the 'All at Sea' collection by Dr Rachel Gadsden

Exhibition in Amman

On Wednesday 8 August 2018, the British Institute in Amman held an exhibition showcasing art created by Syrian women who have found refuge in Germany, the UK and Jordan.

The art was created in collaboration with University of Birmingham academic Dr Yafa Shanneik and internationally renowned artist Dr Rachel Gadsden, who was assisted by Palestinian artist Amna Ali Hussein. The exhibition also featured an excerpt from “All at Sea”, a live painting and music performance created by Rachel and composer Freddie Meyers. The exhibition is part of Yafa's on-going project on Reconsidering Muslim marriage practices in Europe: the case of Iraqi and Syrian war-widows, funded by the British Academy and the Council for British Research in the Levant.

The project examines how Muslim marriage practices assist Syrian and Iraqi refugee women in negotiating their identities and senses of belonging through shaping social relations, challenging religious boundaries and facilitating community belonging and integration within their new diasporas in Germany, the UK and Jordan. This project focuses in particular on Muslim marriage and divorce practices among Iraqi and Syrian refugees in these three countries. The aim of the project is to examine the complexities around reconstructing and redefining different Muslim marriage forms and their consequent divorce regulations within various Iraqi and Syrian refugee communities as performed and lived out in their diasporas in Germany, the UK and Jordan.

As part of the project Yafa conducted interviews with 144 Syrian and Iraqi refugee women in Germany, the UK and Jordan. Rachel led eight art workshops in Germany, the UK and Jordan with these refugee women, using the body mapping technique, an artistic tool for creating life-sized images that traces the contours of the individual’s body.

This research technique was used in this project to investigate the women’s process of displacement, loss, war and instability marking, through handprints and personal narratives, the physical and psychological impact their displacement and marriage and divorce experiences had on them. Through body mapping techniques women were able to counter gender-based narratives of fragility and vulnerability and develop narratives of strength, courage and empowerment to overcome societal patriarchal control, secular as well as religious legal limitations and the social stigma and stereotypes posed on them more generally. The artworks created in these workshops were showcased in the exhibition.


Dr Yafa Shanneik reflects on the 'Europe's New Migrants: Marriage Practices and Policies' conference

On 16 and 17 April 2018 I hosted the Migrant Marriage Conference on 'Europe's New Migrants: Marriage Practices and Policies' at the University.

It provided an interactive platform to explore from legal, religious and social perspectives the many issues related to marriage practices of Muslim migrants in Europe and was an opportunity to hear about and discuss the research findings of academics and legal practitioners from the UK, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.

Of particular interest was the breadth of case studies being conducted on different Muslim minorities in Europe, such as Muslims in Ireland, Turkish women in the UK, Somalis and Kurds in Finland. There were fascinating and it was extremely valuable to have them featured in a single conference.

Migrant Marriage Conference Image by Rachel Gadsden

Adding to that, the fact that the speakers and participants are part of a strong network of professionals in the field of Muslim marriages, and that a lot of them had previously worked together, contributed to making the conference a very supportive and almost familial space for everyone from the start.

The keynote speeches given at the start of each day by renowned professors in the field of Family Law and Muslim minorities - Professors Shaheed Ali and Annelies Moors – were very helpful in highlighting some of the most important issues concerning Muslim marriage practices and finding starting points from which to initiate discussions.

While each of the panel sessions sought to discuss separately the role of the law on Muslim marriages, the issues of unregistered marriages within the various states, and transnational Muslim marriages, there was also a lot of interaction between the law, anthropology, religious studies and sociology in discussion rounds, as well as within panels and presentations.

Following the presentations and discussions rounds, the Migrant Marriage Conference successfully concluded on the second day with an opportunity to collect the outcomes of the conference in a dedicated special issue of the online accessible peer-reviewed journal Zeitschrift für Recht & Islam (ZRI) which will be edited by myself and Dr Haifaa Jawad.

Conference outcomes have also been realised in form of professional connections which were cultivated over the two days and further encouraged by Aina Khan's suggestion at the end to develop a close working relationship between legal practitioners and academics in form of collaboration on projects and through providing work placements for each other.

Please get in touch with me if you would like more information about the project, the conference and its findings, or the working relationship that is being developed.