A Secular Need, COVID-19 and the Persistence of Anti-Muslim Sentiment in India

Presented by the Asian Law Centre as part of the Asian Legal Conversations - COVID-19 Webinar Series.

Redding bookIn Jeff Redding’s new book, A Secular Need: Islamic Law and State Governance in Contemporary India (University of Washington Press, Global South Asia series, 2020), the complex operations of a network of non-state Muslim courts and their diverse interactions with the state are explored. Typically, legal theorists center the state in their analysis, but A Secular Need argues that we need to focus more concertedly on non-state law, especially if we are to understand how power in the legal arena ultimately works. Moreover, without understanding the secular state’s dependencies on Islamic non-state legal actors in India, we will never fully appreciate why and how the Indian state remains so resolutely anti-Muslim. The state’s anti-Muslim politics have continued in the COVID-19 era, suggesting once again that there is stickiness to this politics whose underlying dynamics we ignore at our own peril.


Jeff Redding is a Senior Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School and a New Generation Network scholar at the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute. His research interests are in the areas of comparative law and religion, Islamic law, legal pluralism, family law, and law & sexuality. He has lectured widely on these topics in North America, South Asia, Europe, and Australia, including recently being a Visiting Professor at l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, a Visiting Fellow at the K├Ąte Hamburger Kolleg Centre for Advanced Study of Law as Culture (Recht Als Kultur) in Germany, and Visiting Faculty at the Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan. His next book will take up recent developments in transgender rights in Pakistan.

Farrah Ahmed is a Professor at Melbourne Law School. Her research spans public law, legal theory and family law. Her recent work on constitutional conventions, constitutional statutes, religious freedom, the doctrine of legitimate expectations, the duty to give reasons, social rights adjudication and religious tribunals has been published in the Cambridge Law Journal, the Modern Law Review, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, the Law Quarterly Review, the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and Public Law. Her book Religious Freedom under the Personal Law System was published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Farrah is currently a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery grant studying religious dispute resolution processes, and is working on projects on secularism, expressivism and arbitrariness in public law.

Rohit De is Associate Professor of History at Yale University and Associate Research Fellow in Law at the Yale Law School. A legal historian of South Asia and the British Empire, he is the author of A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic (2018). Supported by the SSRC and the Carnegie Fellowship, he is writing a book on the history of civil liberties lawyering and decolonization. Rohit has also written extensively on Islamic law and civil liberties in colonial India. Prior to Yale, Rohit was the Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics at the University of Cambridge. He has clerked at the Supreme Court of India and worked on constitutional reform projects for Sri Lanka and Nepal.