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Reconsidering Muslim Marriage Practices in Europe: The Case of Iraqi and Syrian War-Widows

Principal Investigator: Dr Yafa Shanneik, University of Birmingham 
Co-Applicants: Dr Mathias Rohe, Professor of Civil Law, Private International Law and Comparative Law, Unviersity of Erlangen-Nuremberg; Professor Annelies Moors, Professor of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam

This pilot interdisciplinary study is considering how Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have settled in the UK and Germany since the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the outbreak of the Syrian war, have adopted new marriage practices, how these have been developed and are perceived, and the status they are given by the countries’ legal systems.

The project offers a new perspective on Muslim marriages by placing the experiences and voices of Muslim women at the centre of research and is:

  • Analysing two recent legal case studies in each country in order to identify to what extent these new forms of marriages are legally recognised,
  • Employing innovative ethnographic, legal and artistic research approaches, including art workshops and collecting life narratives, to examine the women’s agency in developing new forms of Muslim marriages, and,  
  • Examining what other alternative support mechanisms, outside of secular legal systems, exist in the UK and Germany for women to avail of them of their marital rights.

Principal aims of project

In 2014 the UK hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and placed marriage practices at the centre of the UK’s international development efforts. Comparing two European countries that have received refugees at different scales and periods, will shed light on Europe’s most recent arrivals, the negotiation of their ‘politics of belonging’ (Yuval-Davis 2011) and the role Muslim marriage practices play in women shaping social relations, challenging religious boundaries and facilitating community belonging and integration.

No significant research has been done on the growing number of Syrian and Iraqi women refugees in Europe and less so on war-widows. This project is addressing this research gap. The policy paper that it is producing will provide a comparative legal approach centred on women’s own experiences and needs. It will enhance policy understanding among state authorities and various NGOs and religious institutions.

For more information on the project and more on the project’s partners and collaborators, visit the project’s website on:

Below are some pictures of recent fieldwork conducted by the project team among Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Germany.

Yafa Shanneik is a Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Birmingham. She researches the dynamics and trajectories of gender in Islam within the context of contemporary diasporic and transnational Muslim women’s spaces. Currently, she is working on a project which explores women’s narratives of transnational marriage practices performed by Iraqi and Syrian women who have settled in Europe or other countries in the Middle East since the 1980s. It focuses on the historical developments and contemporary understandings and approaches of marriage practices among displaced Iraqi and Syrian Muslim women and foregrounds questions of identity, home and belonging of women constituted through local, national and transnational scales of migration experiences. She has published several articles on gender and Islam and migrant identities in Europe and their marriage practices such as: ‘Shia Marriage Practices: Karbala as lieux de mémoire in London’ Social Sciences. Special issue: Understanding Muslim Mobilities and Gender, 6 (3): Accessible via:

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