Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: March 2011

17 - Women, family and the law: the Muslim personal status law debate in Arab states




In the late twentieth century, a combination of geopolitical developments focused particular attention on ‘the Islamic sharīʿa’ and specifically on its role as an identity and legitimacy signifier for opposition movements in and the governments of Muslim majority states. Positivist approaches to legislative power concentrated on the statutory expression of rules in different areas of state law. After varying periods of independent statehood, a number of post-colonial states promulgated instruments of statutory law presented as reintroducing the rules and sanctions of Islamic criminal law into penal systems otherwise largely based on colonial legislation. Systems of Islamic banking and Islamic finance developed apace. Constitutional arguments focused on the various formulations through which ‘the sharīʿa’ or ‘the principles of the sharīʿa’ are or should be established as a source (or the source) of statutory legislation. In different Muslim majority states, courts became a site for contestation of different perceptions of the requirements of the sharīʿa and the extent to which statutory laws and the state-appointed judiciary would defend or concede to these different invocations of ‘Islamic law’.