Modern Asian Studies

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Modern Asian Studies (2010), 44:175-200 Cambridge University Press
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Research Article

‘Signs of churning’: Muslim Personal Law and public contestation in twenty-first century India*


a1 Department of History, Exeter University EX4 4RJ, United Kingdom Email:
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jones j [Google Scholar]


For many Muslims, the preservation of Muslim Personal Law has become the touchstone of their capacity to defend their religious identity in modern India. This paper examines public debate over Muslim Personal Law, not as a site of consensus within the community, but rather as an arena in which a varied array of Muslim individuals, schools and organisations have sought to assert their own distinctiveness. This is done by discussing the evolution of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the most influential organisation to speak on such matters since the 1970s, with particular focus on its recent disintegration at the hands of a number of alternative legal councils formed by feminist, clerical and other groups. These organisations have justified their existence through criticism of the organisation's alleged attempts to standardise Islamic law, and its perceived dominance by the Deobandi school of thought. In truth, however, this process of fragmentation results from a complex array of embryonic and interlinked personal, political and ideological competitions, indicative of the increasingly fraught process of consensus-building in contemporary Indian Muslim society.


* This paper is based upon newspaper materials collected in India between 2004 and 2007, and on publications issued by the various shari'at -councils discussed within. For facilitating my access to documentation, I owe thanks to Maulana Mirza Muhammad Athar, Maulana Naeem ur-Rehman, and Kazim Zaheer, and to the offices of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (Delhi), the All India Shia Personal Law Board, and the Nadva't ul-‘Ulama Madrasa (both Lucknow). For their insightful suggestions and comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I thank Nandini Chatterjee, Humeira Iqtidar, Werner Menski and Eleanor Newbigin, as well as its anonymous reviewer.