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Custom, Islamic Law, and Statutory Legislation: Marriage Registration and Minimum Age at Marriage in the Egyptian Sharīʿa Courts

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image of Islamic Law and Society

In this essay I examine the interaction between social change and law, in general, and between social custom, Islamic Law and statutory legislation, in particular, by analyzing forty decisions issued by Egyptian sharīʿa courts from the turn of the present century until 1955. These decisions, which deal with the application of two reforms pertaining to marriage, indicate, first, that whenever legal reform confronted entrenched social practices, litigants found legal strategies for circumventing the reform; and second, that the attitudes of judges (qādīs) toward the reforms were diverse and complex. Overall, the qādīs applied the reforms, whether because they believed them to be necessary or feared a confrontation with the government. I conclude that in order for a legal reform to be successful in molding social behavior, it must be complemented by state policies that promote the education of women and encourage them to participate in the labor market.

Affiliations: 1: Hebrew University


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