Renegotiating shariʿa-based Normative Guidelines in Cyberspace: The Case of Women’s ʿawra

  • Sabine Damir-Geilsdorf (Author)
    Orientalisches Seminar Universität zu Köln Albertus Magnus Platz D-50923 Köln
  • Leslie Tramontini (Author)
    Centrum für Nah- und Mittelost-Studien Philipps-Universität Marburg Deutschhausstr. 12 D 35032 Marburg

Identifiers (Article)


The internet has become a new source for religious advice and a new channel for communication about Shariah-based normative guidelines. Opinions and judgments concerning a variety of religious topics are stored in this medium, provided by both religious scholars and laymen. This creates new spaces of religious contestation offering a wide public the possibility to challenge traditional religious authorities. The aim of this paper is to examine the processes of renegotiating Shariah-based normative guidelines in cyberspace by using a case study approach. Via search engines a random sample of websites were drawn where women’s ʿawra (parts that are not to be exposed) are (re)defined and discussed. The paper is divided into four parts: After an introduction about various forms of religious normative guidelines in cyberspace and a discussion of the medium’s impact on authorities, we show in part two that the term ʿawra and its impact on female behavior is disputed since early Islam. Since definitions of the term ʿawra are based not only on Qur’anic verses but also on examples of women’s behavior in early Islam transmitted in historiography and hadith, there are always processes of selection and hierarchisation involved. In part three, we outline these processes by looking at online-fatwas from independent ʿulamaʾ and from official state appointed muftis, furthermore at discussions about women’s ʿawra in forums and blogs. The examples show how religious scholars and laymen construct gender roles by relating in diverging ways to traditional concepts of legal teaching. Processes of (re)negotiations take place especially in informal websites where people criticize the iftāʾ of religious scholars and challenge their authority.


Cyber-Islam, cyber-fatwa, hadith, shariʿa, women’s ʿawra, gender, religious authority, Mufti