Islamic Norms, Common Law, and Legal Reasoning: Muslim Personal Law and the Economic Consequences of Divorce in India


In: Islamic Law and Society
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  • 1 McGill University


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Two major judgments of the Indian Supreme Court that awarded Muslim women alimony had very different consequences: Shah Bano (1985) evoked extensive conservative Muslim protest that led to legislation meant to limit alimony among Muslims, while Danial Latifi (2001) faced no overt opposition and was not overturned. These consequences were related to the sources and modes of reasoning used. Shah Bano independently interpreted Qurʾanic verses, suggested that commonly applicable laws may override religious law provisions, and called for uniform family laws. Danial Latifi relied solely on statutes of Indian Muslim law and Islamic norms. It thus followed the Indian state’s usual approach to personal law, which is sensitive to public preference that family life should be regulated according to religious and other cultural norms. However, public opinion provided support to change Muslim law earlier than the 1970s. More extensive changes could be introduced over the next decade in Muslim law based on Islamic norms and Muslim opinion.


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     Anil Nauriya, “In Memoriam: Danial Latifi, 1917–2000,” India Seminar (2000), <http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/492/492%20memoriam.htm>; Accessed: May 14, 2016.

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  • 28

     Danial Latifi, “The Muslim Women Bill,” in The Shah Bano Controversy, ed., Asghar Ali Engineer (Bombay: Orient Longman, 1988), 102–07; Danial Latifi and Syed Ameenul Hasan Rizvi, “Views on Maintenance for Divorced Women,” in Shah Bano and the Muslim Women Act, a Decade On: The Right of the Divorced Muslim Woman to Mataa, ed. Lucy ­Carroll (Grabels Cédex, 1998), 65–8.

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  • 29

     Latifi and Rizvi, “Views on Maintenance,” 27–9.

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  • 34

     Latifi and Rizvi, “Views on Maintenance,” 66–67; Interview, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umri (whom Rizvi had consulted), President, Jamaat-i-Islami Hind (Delhi), April 10, 2003.

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  • 46

     Writ Petitions No. 996, 1001, 1055, 1062 of 1986, 868 of 1996 in Danial Latifi and Ms. Susheela Gopalan v. Union of India.

  • 49

     Ibid., pp. 746–7.

  • 50

     Ibid., pp. 742–3, 757–8.

  • 51

     Ibid., pp. 744, 762.

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     Sylvia J. Vatuk, “Islamic Feminism in India? Indian Muslim Women Activists and the Reform of Muslim Personal Law,” Modern Asian Studies, 42:2–3 (2008), 489–518. Organizations such as the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board interpreted Islam from the perspectives of Indian Muslim women, but did not adopt systematically feminist analyses, as did certain other organizations, such as the Awaaz-e-Niswaan.

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  • 60

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  • 61

     See footnote 53; Michael Peletz, Islamic Modern: Religious Courts and Cultural Politics in Malaysia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

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