Cultural Relativism and Women’s Rights in Islamic Personal Law in Saudi Arabia
Cultural Relativism and Women’s Rights in Islamic Personal Law in Saudi Arabia
Beata Polok
Mariana Dussin
Dareen Abdulmohsen
Abstract: The issue of cultural relativism versus universalism is widely discussed when considering women’s rights. This article discusses the applicability of cultural relativism to selected issues related to women’s rights in Muslim personal law in the context of Saudi Arabia. It analyses the Islamic inheritance law and the women’s right to receive mahr (dower) and challenges the idea of the incompatibility of Islam with human rights. The main argument of this article is that the concept of universality is limited and, therefore, a more holistic approach to universal human rights, such as cultural relativism, shall be applied when discussing the issue of human rights and women’s rights in Islam. The discussion in this article starts by considering the universal character of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in relation to religions and Islam. Using Saudi Arabia as an example where Islamic law is applicable, a case is made that basing women’s rights on Islamic laws, even though they may be discriminatory from a Western point of view, does not always lead to discrimination but indeed serve as a means to achieve equality. Based on the discussions on the universality of human rights in the context of Saudi Arabia’s social and legal architecture, the article concludes that reconsidering the formal universality of human rights is essential to reconcile it with women’s rights in Islamic law.

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