Everyday Islamic Law and the Making of Modern South Asia

By Elizabeth Lhost

376 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 4 maps, 1 table

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6812-3
    Published: July 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6811-6
    Published: July 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6813-0
    Published: May 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6284-6
    Published: May 2022

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

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Awards & distinctions

2023 Karwaan Book Award

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, British rule transformed the relationship between law, society, and the state in South Asia. But qazis and muftis, alongside ordinary people without formal training in law, fought back as the colonial system in India sidelined Islamic legal experts. They petitioned the East India Company for employment, lobbied imperial legislators for recognition, and built robust institutions to serve their communities. By bringing legal debates into the public sphere, they resisted the colonial state’s authority over personal law and rejected legal codification by embracing flexibility and possibility. With postcards, letters, and telegrams, they made everyday Islamic law vibrant and resilient and challenged the hegemony of the Anglo-Indian legal system.

Following these developments from the beginning of the Raj through independence, Elizabeth Lhost rejects narratives of stagnation and decline to show how an unexpected coterie of scholars, practitioners, and ordinary individuals negotiated the contests and challenges of colonial legal change. The rich archive of unpublished fatwa files, qazi notebooks, and legal documents they left behind chronicles their efforts to make Islamic law relevant for everyday life, even beyond colonial courtrooms and the confines of family law. Lhost shows how ordinary Muslims shaped colonial legal life and how their diversity and difference have contributed to contemporary debates about religion, law, pluralism, and democracy in South Asia and beyond.

About the Author

Elizabeth Lhost is lecturer in history and postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College.

For more information about Elizabeth Lhost, visit the Author Page.


“[An] erudite debut. . . . The meticulous regard for quotidian processes and overlooked cases makes for an intimate study of the sometimes befuddling world of Islamic law in British India. Scholars will find this a detailed and nuanced chronicle.” —Publishers Weekly

“A unique contribution that demonstrates the author’s dexterity in Islamic and South Asian studies.”—Reading Religion

“Opening a window on a virtually unexplored domain, Elizabeth Lhost foregrounds lawmaking in South Asian Islam as a process, providing a diachronic view of how the relationship between Muslim judges and the British state developed throughout the colonial period. Lhost also gives readers an unprecedented glimpse into the everyday lives of litigants, especially women, who attempted to use the law to better their lives. A landmark study of Islamic law in any time or period.”—Brannon Ingram, Northwestern University

“Elizabeth Lhost draws on a remarkable and largely unexplored collection of archives, many of which require rare skill sets to interpret. The result is a lively, bottom-up perspective on everyday legal encounters. For historians and legal scholars alike, this book enriches our understanding of the ongoing importance of non-state legal forums and their complex interfaces with state courts and legislation.”—Julia Stephens, Rutgers University