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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: McGill University


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