Journal article / Codification of Muslim Personal Law in Kerala

Majumdar, Abhik. ‘Codification of Islamic Law in South Asia, or How Not to Do Comparative Law’. South Asian History and Culture. Published ahead of print, 15 May 2019.

Abstract (edited): Comparative law is a fecund field of study capable of yielding insights not obtainable otherwise. It comprises a vital tool not only for academics but also for law and policymakers. It also happens to be a delicate undertaking, and prone to several pitfalls if not approached carefully.

Given the shared legal and political antecedents of South Asian nations, a South Asia-specific comparative law discourse of at least some measure of robustness ought to have emerged by now.

This expectation lies largely frustrated. Scholarly engagement with comparative law is both sporadic and unsatisfactory, the latter attributable to recurring shortcomings such as a tendency to cherry-pick. Such desultoriness is consequential, given comparative law’s capacity to provide inputs to states’ lawmaking and policymaking projects.

In this paper, I explore a little-known instance, one that involves an initiative of Kerala to reform and codify certain aspects of Islamic personal law.

It borrowed considerably from the reform initiatives of Pakistan and Bangladesh but, unusually, chose not to acknowledge this fact. It also deviated from the latter in several crucial respects. And in deviating, it also succeeded in undermining its own stated objectives.

In this paper, I examine the two initiatives; their similarities and differences; and the implications that these similarities and differences carry, particularly in the light of avoiding pitfalls while doing comparative law.

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Reported from Kerala Scholars eGroup

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