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House of Obedience: Social Norms, Individual Agency, and Historical Contingency

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2009
Author Shehada Nahda,
Project The practice of Islamic Family Law in Palestine and Israel: Text and Context
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies
Volume (Issue) 5(1)
Page(s) 24 - 49
Title of proceedings Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies
DOI 10.1353/jmw.0.0031

Open Access


Based on 14 months of fieldwork, this paper examines the influence of social norms, individual agency, and historical contingency on the practice of ‘house of obedience’ (bayt al-ta‘a) in the shari‘a courts of the Gaza Strip. This provision of IFL affords husbands the right to demand that a spouse who has left the conjugal residence return there or live in a dwelling furnished by the husband and where she is provided with all necessities of life. Divorce may then only ensue with the husband’s accord. This article argues that the text of Islamic family law is only one dimension in the administration of the ‘house of obedience’ provision. Aspects concerning the wider sociopolitical context are crucial, notably the preeminence of the notion of family honor (sharaf), the mutually constitutive relation between the shari‘a court and the community, and the specificities of court cases. As an ideological construct, the law does not necessarily correspond to a social milieu full of inconsistencies, oppositions, contradictions, and tensions. Thus, the practice of law has always been characterized by pluralism, flexibility, and a degree of ambiguity, whereas the text remains characterized by rigidity, restriction, stability, and in some aspects, superficial clarity.