British-Muslim Family Law as a Site of Citizenship

Pilgram, Lisa (2018). British-Muslim Family Law as a Site of Citizenship. PhD thesis The Open University.



The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on ‘Civil and Religious Law in England’, delivered a decade ago, attracted considerable public and academic attention. In the years that followed a ‘Sharia debate’ emerged, where traces of (legal) orientalism became especially visible in an essentialist portrayal of ‘Sharia’ as being in opposition to ‘the West’. What was absent in this debate, which was conducted at the abstract level of compatibility–incompatibility, East–West, law–religion, is an analysis of the actual practices of family law of Muslims in contemporary Britain. People marry, divorce, bring up their children and deal with inheritance by resorting to a variety of norms such as Muslim law, English family law and customary law. Drawing on legal pluralism scholarship and elements of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the field, this thesis investigates the emergence of British-Muslim family law as a site of citizenship. It is based on research focusing on solicitors offering Islamic legal services and advice in the UK and clients of such services. By focusing on the creative capacities of legal professionals as well as clients in navigating between English and Muslim family law, the thesis is an attempt to present an alternative narrative of British-Muslim family law, which may inform a different understanding to what is commonly perceived as ‘informal’ legal practices threatening the cohesion of citizens in a the nation-state. The thesis argues that private practice in Islamic legal services is a particularly pertinent case for analysis. This is because solicitors’ day-to-day practice in dealing with cases in between Muslim and English law challenges the presumed incompatibility of ‘Muslim and English’ family law, ‘the foreign and the native’, or ‘the oriental and the occidental’.

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