Competing Authorities Islamic Family Law and Quasi-Judicial Proceedings in North America
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Islamic Family Law, Quasi-Judicial Proceedings in North America, North American Muslims, Islamic marriage laws, Islamic divorce laws, Islamic legal authority, religious law
North American Muslims seeking to resolve their private disputes confront multifaceted access to justice issues. Since Islamic marriage and divorce laws do not always align with North American family legislative schemes, Muslims are burdened with trying to simultaneously meet their obligations toward both legal systems. Unlike secular law, Islamic divorce proceedings require either the husband’s eventual consent or the availability of a Muslim judge. They also prescribe substantive obligations and rights for divorcees that are comparable to corollary relief provided by family law statutes. The absence of religious quasi-judicial dispute resolutions poses barriers to Muslims obtaining a religious divorce or annulment, and to acquiring subsequent relief, such as financial settlements and custody, in accordance with their religious beliefs. To respond to these overlapping barriers, this paper analyzes forms of Islamic legal authority to grant religious divorce or annulment, and to mediate or arbitrate corollary relief using religious law. The paper concludes with recommendations for a holistic framework to settle family disputes in compliance with Islamic law and in a legally enforceable manner.
1 For an examination of how family law disputes in the Canadian Muslim community
are understood and addressed in both cultural and legal contexts, see Yousef
Aly Wahb, “Faith-Based Divorce Proceedings: Alternative Dispute Resolutions for
Canadian Muslims,” Canadian Family Law Quarterly 40, no. 2 (2022).
2 Zahela Kamarauddin, Umar A. Oseni & Syed Khalid Rashid, “Transformative
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Muslim Authority Jurisdiction,” Arab Law Quarterly 20, no. 3 (2016): 257.
3 Julie Macfarlane, Islamic Divorce in North America: Choosing a Shari’a Path in a
Secular Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 262.
4 Quran 30:21.
5 Quran 30:38.
6 Majid Khadduri, “Marriage in Islamic Law: The Modernist Viewpoints,” American
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7 “The [A]rabic word ‘uqud’ covers the entire field of obligations, including those
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8 Wahb, “Faith-Based Divorce Proceedings,” 111.
9 It is prohibited for the husband to compel his wife to agree to khulʿ as an alternative
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10 Ibid., 112.
11 Ibid., 175-76.
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18 Khadduri, “Marriage in Islamic Law,” 214.
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37 For example, the Twelver Shia school requires the judge to believe in the Imams of
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39 See Nadia Sonneveld & Ahmed Tawfik, “Gender, Islam and Judgeship in Egypt,”
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40 Lynn Welchman, Women and Muslim Family Laws in Arab States: A Comparative
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41 Abū Bakr Aḥmad ibn ʿAlī Al-Jaṣṣās, Sharḥ kitāb adab al-qāḍī lil-imām Abī Bakr
al-Khaṣṣ āf (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 2012), 361-65.
42 ʿAbdulamalik al-Juwaynī, Nihāyat al-Maṭlab fī Dirāyat al-Maḏhahab, ed ʿAbdulʾaẓīm
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al-Kubrā (no. 20172): the famous tābi‘ī Masruq said, “To judge between people [with
the truth] for one day is better for me than making jihad for a year.”
44 For a discussion on this communal duty, see Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm
al-Dīn, 1st ed., 10 vols. (Jedda: Dār al-Minhāj, 2011), 4:535–663; David Decosimo,
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45 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Ṣuyūṭī, al-Ashbāh wal-Naẓāiʾr, ed. Muḥammad Tāmer & Ḥāfiẓ Ḥāfiẓ,
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46 Abū al-Ḥasan al-Māwardī, al-Ḥāwī al-kabīr, ed. ʿĀdil ʿAbd al-Mawjūd and ʿAlī
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al-Dīn Ibrāhīm ibn Farḥūn, Tabṣirat al-ḥukkām fī uṣūl al-uqḍiyah wa manāhij al-aḥkām,
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47 Badr al-Dīn Ibn Jamāʿah, Taḥrīr al-aḥkām fī tadbīr ahl al-Islām, ed. Fuʾād Aḥmad, 1st
ed., (Qatar: Riʾāsat al-Maḥākim al-Sharʿiyyah wa-al-Shuʾūn al-Dīniyyah, 1985), 88.
48 Manṣūr ibn Idrīs al-Buhūtī, Kashāf al-qināʿ ʿan matn al-iqnāʿ, 6 vols. (Beirut: ʿĀlam
al-Kutub, 1983), 6:286.
49 Ibid., 296.
50 Ibn Farḥūn, Tabṣirat al-ḥukkām, 1:21-22.
51 Al-Dasūqī, Ḥāshiyat al-Dasūqī, 4:129.
52 Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-muḥtār ʿalā al-durr al-mukhtār sharḥ
tanwīr al-abṣār, ed. ʿĀdil ʿAbd al-Mawjūd and ʿAlī Muʿawwaḍ, 1st ed., 14 vols.
(Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 2011), 8:25.
54 Ibid., 5:368; Niẓām, al-Fatāwā al-hindiyyah, ed. Maḥmūd Maṭrajī, 6 vols. (Damascus:
Dār al-Fikr, 1991), 3:307. Al-ʿIzz ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (d. 660/1262), who is a Shāfiʿī
jurist, also adopted this opinion: al-ʿIzz ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, Qawāʿid al-aḥkām fi
maṣāliḥ al-anām, ed. Nazīh Ḥammād and ʿUthmān Jumʿah, 1st ed., 2 vols. (Damascus:
Dār Al-Qalam, 2000), 1:121-2. Another Shāfiʿī reference to the same opinion is
attributed to Ibn al-Rifʿah (d. 710/1310) by al-Damīrī (d. 808/1405): Kamāl al-Dīn
al-Damīrī, al-Najm al-wahhāj fī sharḥ al-Minhāj, 1st ed., 10 vols. (Jedda: Dār al-Minhāj,
2004), 10:151. However, al-Khaṭīb al-Shirbīnī (d. 977/1570) rendered Ibn ʿAbd
al-Salām’s opinion inaccurate. Also see ‘Abd al-Karīm Zaydān, Niẓām al-Qaḍāʾ fī
al-Sharīʿah al-Islāmiyah (Beirut: Al-Risala Foundation, 1989), 36-37.
55 Zakariyā al-Anṣārī, Asnā al-maṭālib sharḥ rawḍ al-ṭālib, ed. Muḥammad Tāmir, 2nd
ed., 9 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyah, 2012), 9:103-04.
56 Al-Najafī, Jawāhir al-Kalām, 90-94; al-Khush, al-qaḍāʾ, 163.
57 Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, Tuḥfat al-muḥtāj bi Sharḥ al-Minhāj, ed. Anwar al-Dhāghistanī,
1st ed., 10 vols. (Kuwait: Dār al-Ḍiyā, 2020), 7:219.
58 Ibn al-Naqīb al-Miṣrī, The Reliance of the Traveler, translated by Nuh Keller
(Maryland: Amana Publications Beltsville, 2008), 629-30.
59 Al-Mawsūʿah al-fiqhiyyah, 13:166.
60 This position is agreed upon by all madhāhib. Ibid.
61 Al-Haytamī, Tuḥfat al-muḥtāj, 7:59.
62 For an overview of the legal concept of Farḍ Kifāyah and its applications, see
Yousef Aly Wahb, “Farḍ Kifāyah: The Principle of Communal Responsibility
in Islam,” Yaqeen Institute, 2021, https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/yousef-wahb/
63 In the Islamic tradition, they are called “ahl al-ḥall wa al-ʿaqd”, the people with
discretionary political and social power to enact or dissolve a pact. See al-Haytamī,
Tuḥfat al-muḥtāj, 531-532.
64 Muḥammad al-Mukhtār Shinqītī, Mawāhib al-jalīl min adillat Khalīl (Beirut: Dār
al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyah, 2004), 3:210.
65 For the Shāfiʿī recognition of community-appointed judges, see al-Haytamī, Tuḥfat
al-muḥtāj, 7:531-532. For Ḥanbalī authorization of the community to validate judgments,
see Abū Yaʿlā al-Farrā, al-Aḥkām al-sultāniyya, ed Muḥammad al-Fiqī, 2nd
ed. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 2000), 73.
66 Al-Kamāl ibn al-Humām, Sharḥ fatḥ al-qadīr, ed ʿAbdulrāziq al-Mahdī, 1st ed., 10
vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, 2003), 7:246.
67 Ibn ʿĀbidīn, Radd al-muḥtār, 8:43.
68 For a historic and legal background of the issue in India, see Rohit De, “The Two
Husbands of Vera Tiscenko: Apostasy, Conversion, and Divorce in Late Colonial
India,” Law and History Review 28, no. 4 (2010): 1012-1020.
69 Emon, “Islamic Law and the Canadian Mosaic,” 402-410 (describing the British enactment
of Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937) to be a failed attempt
of accommodating Islamic Law and the different methodologies of its schools).
70 The linguistic meaning of ṣulḥ is ending a dispute. The legal meaning is ending a
dispute through a contract.
71 The linguistic meaning of taḥkīm is designating a third party and authorising them
to decide on a matter.
72 Aida Othman, “‘And Amicable Settlement Is Best’: Ṣulḥ and Dispute Resolution in
Islamic Law,” Arab Law Quarterly 21, no.1 (2007): 68.
73 Quran 4:128.
74 Walid Iqbal, “Dialogue and the Practice of Law and Spiritual Values: Courts,
Lawyering and ADR: Glimpses into the Islamic Tradition,” Fordham Urban Law
Journal 28, no. 4 (2001): 1036.
75 Othman, “And Amicable Settlement Is Best,” 73-80.
76 The Majalla included two chapters on ṣulḥ and ibrāʾ (discharge of others’ liability)
formulating 40 articles of their laws and procedures.
77 Othman, “And Amicable Settlement Is Best,” 72.
78 Mohammad Salim El-Awa, Dirasāt fī qānūn al-taḥkīm al-miṣrī wal-Muqāran (Cairo:
Arab Centre for Arbitration, 2009), 216-17. The binding authority of the mandatory
mediation is in the final judgment of the judge and not the agreement facilitated by
the mediator, which is another key difference between arbitration and mediation.
According to this view, the debate on whether the two family representatives of
both spouses are characterized as agents (wakīls) or adjudicators (ḥākims) does not
apply to the scope of arbitration discussed in this article.
79 Ibid., 219-20.
80 Mahdi Zahraa & Nora Hak, “Taḥkīm (Arbitration) in Islamic Law within the Context
of Family Disputes,” Arab Law Quarterly 20, no. 1 (2006): 11.
81 Ibid., 27-29.
83 Jurists disagreed on whether an arbitrator can assume the power of a qāḍī to grant a
divorce. The Mālikīs, a minority opinion among the Shāfiʿīs, and one opinion of the
Ḥanbalīs grant arbitrators an authority to separate the couple without their consent.
two arbitrators (in the scenario of being court-appointed) as only representatives of
the disputants and, therefore, do not have the authority to separate them without
their consent. Ibid., 35-38.
84 Ibid., 38-41
85 Ibid., 30-31. Prior to the issuance of the arbitral award, parties can withdraw or
remove the arbitrator(s). Some jurists suspend the right to withdraw once the arbitration
86 For details on the development of modern Arbitration Law in Muslim countries,
see Al-Awa, Dirasāt fī qānūn al-taḥkīm, 311-356.
87 See ʿAbdullah ibn Bayyah, Ṣināʿat al-fatwā wa-fiqh al-aqalliyyāt (Rabaṭ: Markaz
al-Dirāsāt wa-al-Abḥāth wa-Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth, al-Rābiṭah al-Muḥammadiyyah lil-ʿUlamā
88 See Andrew March, “Are Secularism and Neutrality Attractive to Religious
Minorities? Islamic Discussions of Western Secularism in the ‘Jurisprudence of
Muslim Minorities’ (Fiqh Al-Aqalliyyat) Discourse,” Condozo Law Review 30, no. 6
89 Zahela Kamarauddin, Umar A. Oseni & Syed Khalid Rashid, “Transformative
Accommodation: Towards the Convergence of Shari’ah and Common Law in
Muslim Authority Jurisdiction,” Arab Law Quarterly 20, no. 3 (2016): 255.
90 Amila Buturovic, “European Islam,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, ed.
Mark Juergensmeyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 437.
91 Sherman Jackson, “Islamic Law, Muslims and American Politics,” Islamic Law and
Society 22, no. 3 (2015): 270-271; Aḥmad Abū Sunnah, al-ʿUrf wal ʿādah fī raʾy
al-fuqahāʾ (Cairo: Dār al-Bashāʾir, 2004), 253-254.
92 Mahmood Ghazi, “Shari‘ah and the Question of Minorities,” Policy Perspectives 6,
no. 1 (2009): 68.
93 Ibid., 64.
94 March, “Are Secularism and Neutrality Attractive to Religious Minorities?,” 2825.
95 A) dār al-Islam (territory of Islam), b) dār al-sulḥ (territory of treaty), and c) dār
al-ḥarb (territory of war).
96 March, “Are Secularism and Neutrality Attractive to Religious Minorities?,” 2837.
97 For a discussion on the modern fatāwā regarding secular court-ordered divorces and
the related practices of Canadian imams, see Yousef Aly Wahb, “Validity of Court-ordered
Divorces in Modern Fatwas & Family Dispute Resolution as Practiced by
Canadian Imams,” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 38, no. 1 (2023).
99 Fadel, “Political Liberalism,” 198.
100 Musa Furber, “Alternative Dispute Resolution: Arbitration & Mediation in non-Muslim
Regions,” Tabah Analytical Brief no. 11 (Tabah Foundation, 2011), 8-9.
101 Ibid., 10.
102 Ibid., 12.