Between 1870 and 1930 the French colonial state in Algeria expanded its regulatory prerogatives in the governance of Muslim “personal status law” without abandoning its policy commitments to “respect local custom.” This article examines this fraught historical process with a focus on the impact of European medicine and redefinitions of evidence and expertise. Through case studies drawn from judicial archives and published jurisprudence, this study traces the paradoxical effects of colonial medicalization on Muslim women’s divorce based on forced or failed consummation of marriage. In divorces based on forced or premature consummation, colonial medical and legal discourses that infantilized Muslim women and criminalized Muslim men created new pathways for women to escape abusive marriages. Conversely, women’s divorce suits based on nonconsummation were weakened by French interventions that suppressed expert witnessing by local women birth attendants (qablas) and instead privileged the witness credibility of husbands as heads of households.

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