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Law: Modern Legal Reform


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Modern legal reforms originated both within the tradition and from political leaders who imposed changes in conjunction with government modernization programs. Encounters with the West led to extensive borrowing of substantive and systemic features from European legal models. Islamic procedural rules, criminal law, and commercial codes were often replaced by European ones instead of being reformed. The pace and scope of reform varied with time and place. Ottoman reforms began with the Tanzimat (1839) and Mecelle (1869). The Indian subcontinent assimilated British judge-made case law, resulting in Anglo-Muhammadan law. Egyptian reform integrated French and Islamic legal models; the civil code devised by Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanhuri was subsequently adopted by almost all of the Arab countries. Reform of the legal systems of Indonesia, the Malay states, the Philippines, and Singapore was heavily influenced by local customary law (adat). Reforms in personal status law greatly impacted the lives of Muslim women. Tunisia abolished polygyny and gave men and women equal rights to divorce in 1956; adoption (prohibited in traditional Islamic law) was legalized in 1958. Turkey's new secular legal code vested women with rights akin to those of their Western counterparts. Recently, extremist groups in places such as Algeria, Sudan, and Afghanistan have been advocating a return to an idealized Islamic past by implementing traditional Islamic law.

Subjects: Islam.


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