Muslim Family Laws, Human Rights, and Democracy


ACLS Fellowship Program


Political Science


Public discourse on shari‘a is increasingly polarized on the question of whether or not it is compatible with democratic norms and institutions. Both positions are largely based on ideological assumptions and lack empirical support. In this environment, it becomes increasingly difficult for ordinary citizens and scholars to distinguish between fact and myth and engage in intellectual debate about the alleged incompatibility of shari‘a with basic human rights and the rule of law. Of fifty countries that formally apply shari‘a (especially with respect to family law) within their legal systems, four are liberal democracies—Israel, India, Greece and Ghana. This project examines the complex relationship between democracy and shari‘a by comparing what aspects of Islamic law these four countries targeted for reform, what challenges they encountered in the process, and to what extent they succeeded in rendering religious laws compatible with constitutionalism and basic human and women’s rights.