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Photo Credit: Nicole Rampa

Muslim Women's Quest for Justice. Gender, Law and Activism in India. Cambridge Studies in Law and Society.

Cambridge University Press, 2017

"Muslim Women's Quest for Justice" puts forward the claim that understanding the legal world as plural is an important starting point to think about women’s access to justice. The book is an urban ethnographic study of several Muslim women’s organizations in northern India. While most analyses on reform efforts within Muslim family law in India have focused on women’s protection within the state legal system, this book offers the rare opportunity to understand how organized groups of Muslim women’s rights activists contest marginalizing forces present in the family and criminal courts, Sharia courts, local mosques, workplace, legislature and legal documents. Muslim Women’s Quest for Justice offers new directions for studies on the dispersed nature of women’s identities in Islamic family law. It illustrates the ways in which non-state regulated legal bodies can assist in upholding the rights, dignity, and freedom of Muslim women.

This book is especially valuable to scholars in the field of feminist legal studies, law and society, sociology, anthropology, Islamic studies, and postcolonialism who are interested in exploring the intricate realities of socio-legal reform within contested local, national, and transnational settings. This book is of further interest to policy-makers, legal advocates, and human and women’s rights groups dedicated to find integrated grassroots solutions toward the realisation of gender justice.

Podcast Interview with the New Books Network Series
NBn - Muslim Women's Quest for Justice - Mengia H. Tschalaer
00:00 / 00:00

‘Muslim Women's Quest for Justice is a highly significant, timely, and rigorous intervention that challenges modernist accounts of law and liberal categories of women's rights and justice through a nuanced and sophisticated ethnographic analysis of gender justice. The study not only challenges the dichotomy between state and non-state law, but also how Islam is invariably set up as an obstacle to the pursuit of gender justice in liberal accounts. Hong Tschalaer uncovers the layered and polycentric legal landscape that structure Muslim women's activist's pursuit of socio-legal reform outside of state legal systems and in the process fragments and pluralises the categories of Islam and gender justice. This book marks a vital contribution to critical feminist and anthropological literature that examines the complex and contradictory terrain of justice, law and rights in a ideologically and political fragmented world.'

– Ratna Kapur, Queen Mary University of London


‘Mengia Hong Tschalaer's book presents a very rich and unique ethnographic account of Muslim women's activist organizations in urban north India that provide informal dispute resolution options for women experiencing domestic violence, dowry harassment, spousal neglect or desertion and other marital problems. One strength lies in its many extended case studies of litigants who were interviewed personally and/or observed while seeking justice, not only in such venues but also in a local qazi's court and in the official Family and Magistrates Courts. But equally impressive is the way in which the author places her empirical research findings within a theoretical context, showing their relevance to current debates in India over whether non-state quasi-judicial institutions are beneficial or harmful for Muslim women or should even be permitted to continue to operate. Her work will be required reading for anyone concerned with issues of gender and the law, not only with respect to Indian Muslim women but for those living in other countries characterized by pluralistic legal systems.'

– Sylvia Vatuk, University of Illinois, Chicago


‘A timely, sophisticated, and refreshing intervention in debates about the uniform civil code in India. This richly detailed ethnography of legal spaces in Lucknow provides a multidimensional account of Muslim women's activism, captures the constraining and transformative aspects of litigants' quest for justice, and powerfully illuminates the significance of legal pluralism as a resource for gender equality in Muslim family law.'

-- Gopika Solanki, Carleton University, Canada

'Carefully historicized and brimming with nuanced analysis, this book shows the discursive and political strategies through which overlapping and at times competing women’s organizations navigate a contested and complicated public sphere, as they seek to curate a gender emancipatory understanding of Islam. The major strength of this book is the way it presents a vivid picture of the quest for gender justice on the ground, leavened by such critical processes as the composition of gender-just nikah-namas. This important book will engage the interests of a range of scholars and courses on Islam, gender, South Asia, and Islamic law and society.'

– SherAli Tareen, New Books Network (

Journal Reviews
Law and Society Review (September 2018), Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law (January 2018), Verfassung und Recht in Übersee (November 2017), Law and Social Inquiry (2017), The Book Review Literary Trust (August 2019), Contributions to Indian Sociology (January 2020)
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