Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Philosophy and Religion-Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Philosophy and Religion-Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World

Article excerpt

Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World, by Dawoud Sudqi El Alami and Doreen Hinchcliffe. Cambridge, MA: Kluwer Law International, 1996. xvi + 272 pages. Index to page 279. $127.

When the title of a book is as misleading as the title of this volume is, readers are likely to be caught short. The discrepancy between title and subject will serve as an introduction to a small world of puzzlements that confront the reader. Indeed, one could spend a rainy afternoon with scholarly companions trying to work out the rationales for the various conundrums.

The book offers a short glossary of Arabic terms used in Islamic family law (pp. xiii-xvi); a brief and problematic essay titled "The Uncodified Law" (pp. 3-32); an even scantier essay, "Background to Codification" (pp. 35-37); and English versions of the bare texts of family or personal status laws of 11 Arab countries, each preceded by about half a page of introduction (pp. 39-272). No effort is made to place the laws in historical, political or sociological context.

Curiously, the section on uncodified law is not an analysis or even a description of Islamic law as interpreted and applied in the Arab countries that have not yet codified their laws. Instead, it is a summary of Islamic rules on marriage and divorce, which will be very familiar to readers of the works of James N.D. Anderson.' Although it is conceded that uncodified Hanbali and Twelver Shi'i jurisprudence figures in the laws of a number of countries around the Gulf (see p. 4), little of the essay concerns Hanbali or Shi'i jurisprudence, and none of it deals with Ibadi jurisprudence, acknowledged to be applied in Oman (see p. 4). Paradoxically, much of the discussion concerns Hanafi law, which is more influential in those Arab countries that have abandoned uncodified law.

As the book was published in 1996, one might expect that it would cover current laws. Not only does the book ignore reforms but, in a baffling tack, it denies their very existence. For example, Tunisia made stunning changes to its personal status law in 1993; but, according to the prefatory remarks on p. 239, no changes have been made since 1981. Morocco also made alterations to its Mudawwana, the personal status code, in the same year, but the prefatory remarks on p. 197 would have it that the old Mudawwana has survived unchanged since 1958. One wonders where the authors stand on discussions of these changes in recent scholarly publications, but one has no way of resolving this question. …

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