Codifying Polygamy in the 1957 Moroccan Mudawwana

Earlier this year, Tunisia lifted the 1973 ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men and is considering equalizing inheritance laws for men and women, on arguments that the mixed marriage ban and inheritance disparity violates the post-Arab Spring 2014 constitution calling for gender equality. This development follows in a line of earlier precedent for personal status code reforms—began when Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, announced a ban on polygamy in 1956. He appealed to Islamic law through modern readings of Islamic texts, rather than to traditional Islamic arguments or to comparative practice in the region and its associated Mālikī law. The recent actions beg the question about comparative practice and Mālikī law. For perspective on both, student editor Ari Schriber discusses Morocco’s 1957 Personal Status Code as the country’s first unified set of family law statutes. He address the provisions concerning polygamy in particular, and the government’s attempts to evoke an Islamic basis for legalizing polygamy while simultaneously appearing to limit it in the name of protecting women.

“The 1957 Personal Status Code (Mudawwanat al-Aḥwāl al-Shakhṣiyya) of Morocco legislated the country’s first unified set of family law statutes. Its statutes stipulated legal matters relating to marriage, divorce, legal capacity, testament, and inheritance. The government proclaimed the Mudawwana as a sign of progress and modernity while simultaneously insisting on its adherence to traditional Mālikī law. A conspicuous family law issue like polygamy would seem to present a litmus test for the Mudawwana’s actual standing within these political discourses. However, the Mudawwana’s imprecise restrictions on polygamy instead demonstrate the government’s preference for broad political symbolism above clear legislation.”

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