Apart from basic notions, there is no scholarly consensus on what constitutes a historical matriarchal community and therefore it could refer to any combination of the following terms that indicate female headship and non-patriarchy.

family, society, or state governed by women

Tracing of descent and inheritance through the mother’s side of a family

Residence, especially of a newly married couple, with the wife’s family or people

Islam is generally interpreted as a patriarchal religion. Turning to the Indian Ocean offers possibilities of a different understanding. There are millions of matriarchal Muslims living by the Indian Ocean from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Comoros and Tanzania. Their matriarchal customs have been pitted against Sharia as a classical example of customary laws being contradictory to the Islamic laws.

But does it indeed contradict? Most scholars jump to say it does, whereas the communities say it does not. Even feminist scholars have overlooked the experiences of the matriarchal Islamic communities in the Indian Ocean region. This project explores how and why Indian Ocean Muslim jurists (both male and female) resolved the perceived contradictions through legal reformulations of the matriarchal system within Islamic frameworks. 


Ashoka University | 27-29 August 2019 https://ashoka.edu.in/static/doc_uploads/file_1557992577.pdf

The project “Matriarchal Islam: Gendering Sharia in the Indian Ocean World”, proposed by Mahmood Kooria, has been awarded the Veni grant by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Robbert van Lanschot, former Dutch diplomat to South Sudan, Ethiopia and East Congo, talks to Mahmood Kooria on the project matriarchal Islam.