Muslim Family Laws in Israel and Greece: Can Non-Muslim Courts Bring about Legal Change in Shari'a?

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Should a democratic regime formally incorporate religious laws and courts into its otherwise secular legal system? This is not a hypothetical question. Some democratic nations already formally integrate religion-based laws in the field of family law (especially Muslim Family Law - MFL). Although state-enforced MFLs often affect human rights negatively, many governments, especially non-Muslim majority ones, have refrained from direct legislative interventions into substantive MFLs. Instead they have empowered civil courts to play the role of "reformer." But how successful have civil judiciaries in non-Muslim regimes been in "reforming" Muslim laws? On the basis of an analysis of the MFL jurisprudence of Israeli and Greek civil courts over the last three decades, I argue that civil courts could not have brought about any direct changes in Muslim law, however, they have had an indirect effect by pressuring religious courts/authorities to undertake self-reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)235-273
Number of pages39
JournalIslamic Law and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018



  • Democracy
  • Greece
  • Israel
  • Legal pluralism
  • Legal reform
  • Multiculturalism
  • Muslim family law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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