Since 2012, Musawah has been researching Muslim family laws and practices that enforce de jure and de facto discrimination against women in various Muslim majority and minority countries.

Through Musawah’s work in international advocacy, capacity building and knowledge building, a strong need to map out and track positive developments in Muslim family laws globally emerged.

12 Principal Areas of Concern

Equality of Spouses in Marriage

Equality between spouses must be embedded in laws, policies, and practices in a way that is consistent with today’s realities. This can and has been done with teachings from the Qur’an, historical practice, and examples of the Prophet (pbuh) treating family members with trust, respect, compassion, and care.

Polygamous Marriage

Polygamy is not an ‘Islamic’ institution—it existed before Islam and has taken place in many societies, cultures, and religious communities around the world. The Qur’an sets limitations on polygamy, including the requirement to marry only one wife if husbands are unable to uphold equality in a polygamous marriage (Surah an-Nisa’ 4:3). The Qur’an also notes that it is basically impossible to treat all wives equally (Surah an-Nisa’ 4:129). The Qur’an establishes monogamy as the norm in creation by teaching that God created humankind from a single pair (Surah an-Nisa’ 4:1). Polygamy is an exception, allowed only under certain conditions.

Women’s Financial Rights After Divorce

Women often face economic challenges when they divorce. While this occurs in most contexts, regardless of religion or national legal regimes, the problem can be particularly pronounced in countries with Muslim family laws. While some actors claim that current laws are equitable because women are entitled to mahr at the time of marriage and maintenance during the marriage and ‘iddah period, these financial provisions do not ensure fairness and justice for women upon divorce.

Inheritance Rights

Property rights for women is the key to gender equality within family and society. These rights ensure that women can live and are given full autonomy, agency and dignity in marriage and family and within the state. They also contribute to economic development for communities and countries. When women have access to assets (especially those they are already the primary caretakers of and/or have contributed towards acquiring and building), the positive impacts are far reaching.

Consent into Marriage / Forced Marriage

The Qur’an and Sunnah describe marriage as a solemn covenant built on ethics such as love (mawadda), compassion (rahmah), and beauty and goodness (ihsan). Legally, however, Muslim tradition considers marriage to be a contract (‘aqd) between two parties who, as with any contract, enter it freely. Various hadiths put forward the idea that conditions are acceptable in Islamic contracts and must be fulfilled by those who agree to them. As in any contract, the parties to a marriage must freely consent to terms on which they mutually agree.

Divorce Rights

States must act to ensure that men and women have equal access and rights in the dissolution of marriage in terms of the types of divorce available and the ease in obtaining divorce. The Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) offer an approach to divorce that rests on principles such as graciousness (fadl), justice, fairness, and equity (‘adl, qist, insaf), kindness (ihsan), and that which is commonly known to be right (ma‘ruf). This approach should be adopted into divorce laws and processes today.

Custody of Children

Child custody and guardianship provisions in Muslim family laws are primarily derived from fiqh rules developed many centuries ago by jurists who had fixed gender stereotypes about parental roles and children’s needs. While formulated with the best interests of the child in mind, these fiqh-based rules fail to serve the best interests of children in contemporary Muslim contexts.

Violence Against Women in the Family

The Qur’an repeatedly states that all people, regardless of gender, were created from the same soul and are equal in creation, equal in this life, and equal in the Hereafter. The concepts of tawhid (the oneness of God), taqwa (God consciousness), and humans as God’s khalifa (trustees) on earth mean that all believers are equal in the eyes of God, and are obedient to and serve only God and not one another. The Qur’an dictates love, compassion, beauty and goodness within marriages and families. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was reportedly never violent towards his wives or daughters, and resolved conflicts with graciousness. 

Women’s Capacity to Enter Into Marriage

Lived realities have shown that women have an unequal ability to enter into marriage. This includes child and forced marriage. Women are denied the choice in who they marry, when they marry and have zero autonomy over their own life decisions, this contributes to failed marriage relationships, unequal power in and lack of respect within marriage relationships, and increased violence in marriages.

Minimum and Equal Age of Marriage

Child marriage must be eliminated to halt the devastating effects it has on children and their families and communities. Islamic teachings support raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls. States have a duty to protect vulnerable children and our societies from harm, and must act to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 for girls and boys.

Guardianship of Children

Child custody and guardianship provisions in Muslim family laws are primarily derived from fiqh rules developed many centuries ago by jurists who had fixed gender stereotypes about parental roles and children’s needs. The rules can complicate divorce proceedings and lead to increased acrimony and discord for parents and children. Evidence shows that both men and women are capable of and already actively participate in caring for children and protecting and providing for their families.


Discriminatory nationality and citizenship laws embody patriarchal values that undermine women’s basic human rights and expose them and their children to harm and further discrimination. Denying women the same rights as men to automatically confer citizenship to their children, will have disastrous consequences as women are less likely to leave abusive relationships and their children risk statelessness. Such discrimination contravenes a country's obligation under international law and the need to interpret all constitutional provisions concerning citizenship, and its transference, without discrimination based on sex.

Global Repository of Muslim Family Laws

In 2016 we began compiling information outlining the legislative frameworks, available case law, policies, procedures and practices in 31 countries (and counting) along 12 principal issues of concern we have identified.

The country overview tables were prepared in consultation with national advocates and experts and are still works-in-progress given the diverse and evolving nature of law reform globally.

Positive Developments in Muslim Family Laws

The diversity of provisions and practices in Muslim family laws across the world and the ongoing process of reform of these laws in multiple countries, demonstrates that change towards more egalitarian family laws which guarantee equality and justice to Muslim women and men, is both necessary and possible.