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Journal Article

An Enduring Relic: Family Law Reform and the Inflexibility of Wilāya


Möller,  Lena-Maria
MPI for Comparative and International Private Law, Max Planck Society;

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Möller, L.-M. (2015). An Enduring Relic: Family Law Reform and the Inflexibility of Wilāya. The American Journal of Comparative Law, 63, 893-925. doi:10.5131/AJCL.2015.0027.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0029-3197-6
This Article discusses the rules governing guardianship over a child’s property and personal affairs in contemporary Muslim jurisdictions from a comparative perspective. Specifically, it questions the reasons for a less progressive reading and interpretation of wilāya (guardianship) in an era that has otherwise borne witness to family law codification and reform in the majority of Arab-Muslim countries. The Article first considers the legislatures’ reluctance to reform guardianship despite having adopted a progressive approach for other areas of family law in general and for custody, as an element of the parent–child relationship, in particular. It then classifies the current guardianship rules that can be found in (Arab) Muslim jurisdictions and concludes that, apart from the Maghreb, wilāya is still framed as a largely gendered legal concept and a male prerogative. Finally, these legislative choices are discussed with a view to potential reform impediments, namely a patriarchal reading of pre-modern Islamic legal doctrine, the legislatures’ preference for vesting financial control in men, and, lastly, the outsourcing of guardianship from the larger body of codified family law as can be witnessed in some jurisdictions. The Article concludes that, in addition to relying on pre-modern legal practice, changes in current guardianship rules can be equally brought about through an inter-Arab comparative approach to family law reform as well as an adjustment of wilāya to the themes and leitmotifs already permeating most codified family law in contemporary Muslim jurisdictions.