The Karwaan Book Awards is an annual book award that recognises outstanding contributions to historical research. This year’s winner is Everyday Islamic Law and the Making of Modern South Asia by Elizabeth Lhost, published by the University of North Carolina Press.

Beginning in the late 18th century, British rule transformed the relationship between law, society, and the state in South Asia. But qazis and muftis, alongside ordinary people without formal training in law, fought back as the colonial system in India sidelined Islamic legal experts. They petitioned the East India Company for employment, lobbied imperial legislators for recognition, and built robust institutions to serve their communities. By bringing legal debates into the public sphere, they resisted the colonial state’s authority over personal law and rejected legal codification by embracing flexibility and possibility. With postcards, letters, and telegrams, they made everyday Islamic law vibrant and resilient and challenged the hegemony of the Anglo-Indian legal system.

Following these developments from the beginning of the Raj through independence, Elizabeth Lhost’s book rejects narratives of stagnation and decline to show how an unexpected coterie of scholars, practitioners, and ordinary individuals negotiated the contests and challenges of colonial legal change. The rich archive of unpublished fatwa files, qazi notebooks, and legal documents they left behind chronicles their efforts to make Islamic law relevant to everyday life, even beyond colonial courtrooms and the confines of family law. Lhost shows how ordinary Muslims shaped colonial legal life and how their diversity and differences have contributed to contemporary debates about religion, law, pluralism, and democracy in South Asia and beyond.

The jury said about the book, “It is a landmark study of the legal process in colonial India, but it has wider historiographical implications that promise to deepen and reshape our understanding of the state-society interactions in British India, and the social communication that was so crucial to the making of modern South Asia. Focusing on routine legal encounters, the work draws our attention to the significance of non-state actors in shaping the legal arena in the 19th and 20th centuries. In doing so, Lhost makes a strong argument in favour of legal pluralism, and through an exploration of the everyday lives of Muslim litigants, presents the legal process as constituted and reproduced by the interaction of the evolving legal arena with the colonial judicial system...”

The other shortlisted books were

This year’s jury comprised of professors Amar Farooqui, Partho Datta, Suchandra Ghosh, Farhat Hasan, Rohit De, Abhilash Malayil, Malavika Kasturi, and Joy Pachuau.