Introduction to a Book Discussion on Jeffrey Redding’s A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India

(Over the next few days, we will run a book discussion on Jeffrey A. Redding’s A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India. This is the introductory post by Professor Rohit De)

Whether from the perspective of Islamic law’s advocates, secularism’s partisans, or communities caught in their crossfire, many people see the relationship between Islamic law and secularism as antagonistic and increasingly discordant. In the United States there are calls for “sharia bans” in the courts, in western Europe legal limitations have been imposed on mosques and the wearing of headscarves, and in the Arab Middle East conflicts between secularist old guards and Islamist revolutionaries persist—suggesting that previously unsteady coexistences are transforming into outright hostilities.

Jeffrey Redding’s exploration of India’s non-state system of Muslim dispute resolution—known as the dar-ul-qaza system and commonly referred to as “Muslim courts” or “shariat courts”—challenges conventional narratives about the inevitable opposition between Islamic law and secular forms of governance, demonstrating that Indian secular law and governance cannot work without the significant assistance of non-state Islamic legal actors.

Professor Redding joined the Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law (SAHSOL) as Dean in July 2020. Jeff comes to LUMS from the University of Melbourne where he was a senior research fellow. Previously, he has held research fellowships at Yale Law School (Oscar M. Ruebhausen program), Harvard Law School (Islamic Legal Studies Program), and Columbia Law School (Center for the Study of Law and Culture) and has been faculty at St Louis University School of Law. Jeff earned his JD from the University of Chicago Law School, and his BA from Harvard College.

Jeff’s research and teaching interests are in the areas of comparative law and religion, Islamic law, legal pluralism, family law, and law & sexuality. Jeff is also the recent author of A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India (University of Washington Press, Global South Asia series, 2020) and his next book will take up transgender rights in Pakistan.

In the book round-table, the following leading scholars of Islamic studies and constitutional law practitioners will engage with A Secular Need, drawing on their own research and expertise:

  1. Arif A. Jamal, National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law (comments here)
  2. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo
  3. Shaunna Rodrigues, Columbia University
  4. Shahrukh Alam, Advocate, Supreme Court and Patna High Court

This shall be followed by a response from Prof. Redding.

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