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The Reception of Muslim Family Law in Western Liberal States

Issues of personal status are of crucial importance for Muslim women because they often remain the last bastion of male dominance.2 As a result of considerable immigration from Muslim countries and subsequent family reunifications, legal terms and concepts rooted in the Sharia (Muslim law)3 have been “transplanted”4 into Western states through one of two routes.

First, through international private law rules, which often directly incorporate foreign (Islamic) norms; or, second, through secular domestic laws. In this paper, I analyze the extent to which French and German courts and public policies have recognized (or rejected) Muslim family law in matters of personal status. Although the French and German states follow assimilationist and anti-diversity policy models, at the legal and judicial level courts have demonstrated a degree of responsiveness to accommodate some aspects of Muslim religious traditions while rejecting institutions deemed contrary to the French or German “public order”. In addition, this paper will analyze the official demand for state recognition of Muslim family law that was put before the British government and ultimately rejected in the name of gender equality. The paper will also provide conclusions regarding the impact of these so-called transplanted Islamic legal rules on Muslim women, in particular in relation to their equality rights as residents and citizens of Western states.