(2010) JLP 60: 5-40
Customary religious legal systems have been historically utilized in various areas, from fighting against crime to such mundane affairs as setting the price of goods and services in the market place or regulating personal and familial relations. Against this background, the present study focuses its lenses exclusively on so-called personal status systems as quintessential examples of customary religious legal systems in the contemporary world. In this context the article first addresses the question of why modern nation-states such as Israel, Egypt, and India still continue to employ pluralistic personal status systems and differentiate among their citizens despite the fact that they were originally founded on premises of non-discrimination and equal treatment. Secondly, the study explains how pluralistic organizations of law and justice affect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals living under such systems; how they cope with limitations imposed upon their rights by communal/religious institutions; and what tactics and strategies they use to navigate through the maze of personal law. Lastly, after demonstrating what approaches have been successfully used to bring about changes in the context of Israeli, Egyptian, and Indian personal status laws, the paper identifies key lessons and recommendations for the purpose of helping human rights activists, donors and members of programmatic communities who design intervention mechanisms and tools to incorporate universal human rights standards into customary and religious systems around the world.