In recent years, the problem of gender-based custody allocation has sparked intense mobilization across the Middle East. In Lebanon, Sunni and Shi‘i citizens led two parallel campaigns to modify the sharia-derived norms enforced in custody disputes. Their efforts produced perplexing results: while Sunnis extended the duration of maternal custody, the Shi‘a failed to bring about even a modicum of change to judiciary practice. This essay argues that understanding this difference in outcomes requires shifting the analytical focus away from religious doctrines and codification issues and toward the political apparatuses in which Islamic jurisprudences are embedded. Drawing on ethnographic research, Landry asks how the secular state helps construct the religious laws applied in its family courts. In pursuing this question, he shows that under current conditions, judges' practice of ijtihad (scripture-based reasoning) often hinders legal change instead of facilitating it.

Activism, Family law, Gender, Islam, Lebanon, Secularism
dx.doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-7885323
Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Landry, J.-M. (2019). Dialectic of Ijtihad: Reforming Family Law in Contemporary Lebanon. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 39(3), 361–373. doi:10.1215/1089201X-7885323