Elizabeth LhostFeb 24, 2023
Everyday Islamic Law and the Making of Modern South Asia
University of North Carolina Press 2022
Beginning in the late eighteenth century, British rule transformed the relationship between law, society, and the state in South Asia. But professionals, alongside ordinary people without formal training in law, fought back as the colonial system in India sidelined Islamic legal experts. They petitioned the East India Company for employment, lobbied imperial legislators for recognition, and built robust institutions to serve their communities. By bringing legal debates into the public sphere, they resisted the colonial state’s authority over personal law and rejected legal codification by embracing flexibility and possibility. Following these developments from the beginning of the Raj through independence, Elizabeth Lhost, South Asia Digital Librarian for the Center for Research Libraries, rejects narratives of stagnation and decline and shows in Everyday Islamic Law and the Making of Modern South Asia (UNC Press, 2022), how an unexpected coterie of scholars, practitioners, and ordinary individuals negotiated the contests and challenges of colonial legal change.
The rich archive of unpublished fatwa files, qazi notebooks, and legal documents they left behind chronicles their efforts to make Islamic law relevant for everyday life, even beyond colonial courtrooms and the confines of family law. Lhost shows how ordinary Muslims shaped colonial legal life and how their diversity and difference have contributed to contemporary debates about religion, law, pluralism, and democracy in South Asia and beyond. In our conversation we discussed legal pluralism under British colonialism, alternative archives of legal information, the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, the role of the category “religion” in colonial politics, Islamic legal publishing, Muslim marriage registers, the Muslim Personal Law Application Act of 1937, and the effects of Islamic legal practice in the lives of everyday people.
Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.