Invisible Barriers to Citizenship

Project Details


The aims of the project were twofold. On the one hand, the project intended to develop an interdisciplinary analysis that would look at the Islamic restrictions to Inter-Faith Marriages (IFMs) from the perspectives of Islamic Legal Studies, Comparative Law, and Citizenship Theories, with two main goals: (1) identifying possible Islamic Law reform options, and (2) considering the possibility of accommodating the Islamic restrictions to IFMs in current Citizenship Theories. On the other hand, the project aimed at verifying the feasibility of such options in a practical setting, taking Scotland as a case study.

The first part of the project needed to be conducted in Cairo, where reference works of classical Islamic scholars, as well as literature of contemporary scholars (both conservative and liberal), were available. The second part of the project needed to be conducted in Scotland, where interviews with Islamic religious figures and stakeholders could verify how the ideas of reforming restrictions to IFMs would be received, and discuss possible ways of accommodating Islamic restrictions to IFMs in Citizenship Theories.

The project had two primary dimensions. On the one hand, it involved academic networking and literature review both in Egypt and in Scotland (with significant inputs also from scholars contacted in Rome, London and Barcelona during the World Congress on Middle Eastern Studies-3). On the other hand, it required a close interaction with ‘Islamic religious figures and stakeholders’ (as stated in the objectives). One avenue for developing this part of the work was the holding of two open seminars by Parolin in the first weeks of his stay in Edinburgh.

As the project involved, in this second part, elite interviews and consultation with relevant 'user' groups, the project required a self-assessment (level 1) under the School of Law Ethics approval process ( The process was completed during the Parolin’s first week in Edinburgh.

Key findings

The main findings of the project relate to filling important gaps in our understanding of Inter-Faith Marriages (IFMs). There seems to be a hiatus between the classical Islamic regulations on IFMs and their contemporary application in a context such as the Scottish one. The conditions and broad horizon in which these conditions are set in classical Islamic law theory seem not to obtain today in Scotland (unequal relations between spouses in the conduction of conjugal life, possibility of the non-Muslim husband to prevent his Muslim wife from performing her religious duties, full application of Islamic law in Scotland or warfare relations between Scotland and Islam). The development of ‘new’ Islamic regulations on IFMs seems, however, to be hindered by a number of factors, among which prominently figures the difficulty in establishing the authoritativeness of new legal solutions (and categories).
This situation leads to a selective application of the classical regulations generating a hybrid solution that is neither the classical, nor a new one (in fact it is, but it is not purported as such). The authority of the hybrid solution seems to be strengthened by the oblivion of the localisation of classical solutions; regulations for a Muslim-ruled context are extended to a non-Muslim-ruled one--disregarding the provisions set out for the latter context. One could argue that this ‘extension’ of the regulations developed for a Muslim-ruled context mirrors a certain conception of the migratory phenomena that might change as newer generations progressively lessen their ties with the ‘homelands’ of their ancestors.
Recent attempts to develop a ‘new’ body of Islamic law based on the conditions of Muslim communities who live as minorities (especially in the West)--and tailored to their needs--seems to having met with tepid reception so far. References to this fiqh al-aqalliyyat by Muslim religious figures and stakeholders in Scotland were noted with particular attention by the fellow. It is worth mentioning here that advocates and supporters of fiqh al-aqalliyyat directly engaged with the classical Islamic regulations on IFMs in the second issue of the Majallah ‘ilmiyyah of the European Council for Fatwa and Research in 2003; the issue was entirely dedicated to the status of the marriage of a woman who converts to Islam while her husband does not.
Classical Islamic restrictions to IFMs fall out of the purview of contemporary legal systems--so adamantly committed to the principle of territoriality of the law, and its professed religious-blindness. These restrictions fall in a blind spot of Scots law and court system, but it would amount to a mystification to discard them as irrelevant to law, especially when reasoning in terms of citizenship theories.
Effective start/end date1/05/1031/10/10


  • ESRC: £5,160.00


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