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The IUP Journal of Law Review :
Reform of the Muslim Personal Law: Challenges and Possibilities
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All legal systems—whether unitary or plural—must conform to the international standards of human rights, including gender equality. Muslim personal law legitimizes traditional practices in the name of religion that are inconsistent with expansion of freedom and gender equality. The practical importance of this paper arises from the fact that, despite formal guarantees of equality of rights at both the international and national levels, lives of Muslim women in India continue to be characterized by gender discrimination and substantive inequality in the field of family law. It is interesting to observe that progressive men and women belonging to the Muslim community have already started demanding a change. It is well-known that many Muslim countries have made substantial changes in their personal laws. The changes taking place in other countries which are predominantly Muslim can make an impact on Muslim opinion in this country. If the reform is to be given content and to be meaningful in the lives of Muslim women, it cannot simply be imposed by legal structures external to the community, but must be introduced from within the community, and must begin with socioeconomic and educational empowerment of both men and women of that community.

 
 
 

The issue of reform of the Muslim personal law in India has, for some time past, been a topic of heated debate for the progressive and the reactionary elements in the society. Because of lack of objectivity of approach on both sides, the conflict often assumes irrelevant dimensions marked by communal overtones. The issue, in fact, must be dealt in social, legal and gender perspectives. To highlight gender issues and give the color of feminism to the issue of changes in Muslim personal law is in itself wrong. The question concerns the whole Muslim community irrespective of sex. One must recall that personal law concerns not only Muslims but also Hindus and tribal communities whose family affairs are regulated by their own customary laws, and on which intellectual discourse in India, with a few exceptions, remains silent.

The modern society cannot accept the unqualified rights of communities to their cultural identity, although providing space for such identity is crucial for a democratic polity. For one thing, the ‘community’ identity that is claimed today as natural and prior to all other identity is no more primordial than the nation is. The personal laws being defended in the name of ‘religious’ freedom are constructions of the 19th-20th centuries. The codification of Hindu law was completed in 1955-56 by the enactment of four major pieces of legislations, namely, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Hindu Succession Act, 1956; Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. But the Muslims are still governed by their own traditional laws which are discriminatory in many ways.

 
 
 

Law Review Journal,International standards of human rights, Including gender equality,Muslim personal law legitimizes traditional practices, Lives of Muslim women in India.