In the News: Child Custody in Islamic Law

Last month, the ex-daughter-in-law of former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida took to Instagram to share her frustration with how the court was handling her child custody case, accusing the judge of having “changed the sharia law to fit his client” (her politically prominent ex-husband).

Child custody, like other aspects of law, varies between countries—even in countries whose constitutions or legal codes are based on Islamic law. Sometimes, decisions by foreign courts that apply Islamic family law are reviewed in US courts, often to ensure that the foreign court had proper jurisdiction.

For recent scholarship on the subject, Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim published Child Custody in Islamic Law: Theory and Practice in Egypt since the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge University Press) earlier this year.

The SHARIAsource Portal contains summaries of several of these types of cases, including:

  • A 1996 case in which a Maryland court granted comity (agreed to enforce the legal decisions of another jurisdiction) to a Pakistani court’s decision to give custody to the father. The Maryland court explained that the mother would have to show either that the Pakistani court did not base its decision on the best interest of the child, or that the Pakistani law was contrary to Maryland public policy.
  • A 1997 case in which a Maryland court allowed the mother to present evidence showing the Philippines Sharīʿa Court lacked jurisdiction to decide a child custody case, noting that the child never lived under the Sharīʿa Court’s jurisdiction, and “he was born out-of-wedlock, rendering [the father’s] paternity questionable, if not nonexistent, under Muslim law.”
  • A 2003 case in which a New Jersey court allowed the father to take her daughter to Lebanon during the summers, even though under Lebanese law he could gain sole custody and not let her return.