Zakia Salime's exceptionally well-written Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco is a welcome addition to the conversation on Islam and gender. Salime questions the idea, common to the literature on Islam and feminism, that the interaction of feminist groups and Islamist activists can be reduced to conflict. Rather, she argues that in the Moroccan case, the relationships between feminists and Islamists are much more complicated. The two communities are constantly reacting to each other, adopting strategies, discourses, and frameworks in their competition for membership and influence over women's rights. Although the author identifies little that could be termed outright cooperation, the work convincingly demonstrates that reducing the interaction of these two groups to opposition and conflict is too simplistic.
Salime examines the interaction of feminist and Islamist groups through what she terms "movement moments" or specific periods of time that were consequential for the relationship between these two groups, what many institutionalist scholars might refer to as critical junctures. These movement moments include the One Million Signature Campaign of 1992, the competing feminist and Islamist rallies in 2000, and the response of Islamist and feminist activists to the 2003 Casablanca bombings. These movement moments make up the empirical chapters of the book. By examining the interaction of Islamist and feminist groups over a twenty-year period, Salime captures how these groups responded not only to each other but also to broad changes in feminism globally, particularly following the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995 and the cooptation of women's rights in contemporary War on Terror discourse.
The text's main argument, that the interaction of feminist and Islamist groups is better understood as interactive rather than conflictual, is well supported. Throughout the book, Salime identifies specific points where Islamists and feminists modified their strategies and techniques in response to the other. During the movement moment that followed the 2003 Casablanca bombings, feminists took advantage of the climate of suspicion surrounding Islamists to present themselves as modern and democratic by comparison. In response, Islamist women appropriated the term "moderation," connected it to the Quranic concept wassat, and argued for an understanding of mothers as mediators. Their arguments supported their lobbying efforts with the state, where they demanded more positions of religious leadership in the religious bureaucracy. Thus, Islamist women learned to appropriate the language of the War on Terror from feminist groups, but they directed this strategy toward their own political goals.
A secondary argument of the text is that gender should be considered "a field of struggle and a marker of specific shifts in power arrangements" (2). Salime demonstrates how in the Moroccan case gender was a field of conflict for multiple social groups: religious scholars, feminists, Islamists, the Makhzan or the circle of advisers that surround the monarchy and citizens. Changes in the power relations among these groups were reflected in the compromises that brought about legislative failures or reforms. After the 2003 Casablanca bombings, for example, which spread fear about the growth of radical Islam, the King was able to force through a more liberal family code than he would have been able to do otherwise. The field of gender was not the primary arena of conflict but rather reflected the loss in prestige that Islamists had suffered as a result of the terrorist attack.
Empirically, the book manages to provide a fresh account of a much-discussed subject. The reform of the family code is perhaps the most studied period in contemporary Moroccan history. Nevertheless, the author's focus on the interaction of feminist and Islamist groups, her fascinating interview data, and the quick pace of the work distinguish it from previous attempts to document the period. The book could even be an effective introduction to Moroccan politics. Descriptions of the feminist and Islamist groups that the book focuses on are lucid but succinct, and the empirical chapters are well situated in their political context. Excluding the Introduction (which is heavily theoretical), the empirical chapters of the book are very readable and could be assigned in undergraduate classrooms.
The first chapter identifies the main players that appear in later chapters. Chapter 2 examines how early efforts by Moroccan feminists to demand a new family code failed, even after they reached their goal of collecting one million signatures, largely due to the feminists' attempt to completely exclude Islamist actors from the conversation. In chapter 3, Salime examines how both feminist and Islamist groups held competing protests (for and against) proposed changes to the family code in the year 2000. In a reversal from the previous chapter, Islamist women were able to mobilize thousands more supporters at their event. The competing rallies were a direct result of Islamist learning from the feminist mobilization in 1992, but the Islamists' superior organizing power forced feminists to rethink their methods. The competition peaks in chapter 4, which analyzes how both feminists and Islamists found ways to capitalize on the language of the War on Terror to press for their own political demands. In the end, a compromise negotiated by the monarchy resulted in a successful reform to the family code that partially satisfied both camps.
The work is strong methodologically and relies on the author's own observations and involvement in the feminist movement in the 1990s as well as interviews of both elites and non-elites, archival research, and discourse analysis. Rich empirical material not available elsewhere can be found throughout. The most convincing evidence for the author's main argument tends to be quotations from interviews that confirm that learning that was taking place between feminist and Islamist activists. Nevertheless, Salime rarely provides specific dates for interviews, making it difficult to determine to what degree respondents were seeing the past through the lens of their present circumstances. There is also rarely an effort to triangulate by comparing quotations from interviews with sources from the period in question that would support some of the claims made by the author that activists were aware of the actions of other groups and were responding in kind. Beyond the work's methodology, the voice of the text is strong and clear. Salime is explicit in her positionality vis-à-vis the activists and articulates how that position changed during (and as a result of) the research for this work.
Although the book is sure to satisfy scholars interested in North Africa, readers interested in larger theoretical considerations will be disappointed. In the body of the text, the author convincingly demonstrates that Islamist and feminist women innovate in response to each other, but makes little effort to draw larger theoretical points from the Moroccan case. And in that regard, the book missed several opportunities. Much scholarship has examined the interaction of women's rights activism and broader social movements. The usual story is one of women's rights being subjugated to a "broader" goal and then abandoned, but Salime's third movement moment illustrated the opposite phenomenon. Although the Casablanca bombings facilitated the passage of a more liberal family code by restricting the Islamist opposition, in the end the reform was a partial loss for the forces of democratization even as it supported liberalization and broader women's rights. In other words, feminist activism was successful at a period of retrenching authoritarianism. One theoretical question that Salime could have considered is, under what circumstances are women's issues prioritized by political elites over other priorities?
Despite its highly original content and analysis, the book is short, with only three substantial empirical chapters based on primary data, and the final chapter is rushed, brief, and rife with errors. Errors in Arabic transliteration also abound throughout the book, though such errors are likely to offend only a small subset of the book's readers. Overall, though, this book is an important contribution to the scholarship on Islam and gender, Islamic activism, and the politics of family law. By pushing scholars to abandon the reductive category of conflict and adopt the richer category of interaction, Salime challenges scholars beyond the North African context to evaluate the range of interactions between Islamist and feminist actors.