Uses of the Past in Pre-modern Codification and Canonization of Islamic Law – 30th November 2018

Canonization of pre-modern Islamic law can refer to the formation of new criteria of interpretation as well as formation textual canons of normative source texts or collections of rules. Somewhat less explored is canonization processes during transition to modernity and the notion of pre-modern codification. Codification of Islamic law is often seen as a term and concept reserved for cases where the modern state take a direct role in formulating the law.

In this workshop we wanted to explore how various actors, elites and Muslim legal scholar in late pre-modern times also appealed to the notion of a code-like law, in line with certain exceptions of quality and free of ambiguity and contradiction. We also wanted to explore the “open space” between the analytical terms “codification” and “canonization”.

Most of the presentations dealt with contextualized cases of how Islamic law had been canonized or codified in specific instances, regions and periods. During the workshop we had much time for discussion of concepts. There were still disagreements to what extent the term “codification” fits to processes of defining pre-modern Islamic law, however, there was a strong concensus that the phenomena related to this problem field need to be addressed, explored and elaborated further. All the participants agreed to continue with this process and to be part of a theme issue addressing this. We will update as this develops!

Judge Somoud al-Damiri: HERA fellow 25th – 30th June 2018 Gottingen

From Monday 25th of June until Saturday 30th of June, Judge Somoud al-Damiri spent one week in Göttingen, invited as a fellow to the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies of Georg-August University by the Göttingen USPPIP team. Judge Damiri -one of the few female shari’a judges, working in the West Bank was invited, with the title of “HERA fellow”, to take part in some of the activities organized by Prof. Schneider and Dr. Edres within the framework of the USPPIP project. The detailed agenda of Judge al-Damiri included the following appointments:

Tuesday 26th June: Lecture “Palestinian Women between Sharia and Law. Shari’a Judge Samoud al-Damiri – Special Case”. The lecture took place at Göttingen University at the Department for Arabic and Islamic Studies, inside the framework of the Seminar on Islamic Law of Prof. Schneider. During the lecture Judge al-Damiri provided the students with information about the Judicial System in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (addressing the overlapping of different legislations and the difficulties related to it and presented her professional experience as Shari’a Judge and Public Prosecutor in Family Law.

Wednesday 27th June: Double Talk “Female Judges – Experiences, Successes and Challenges in Palestine and Germany”. This public lecture combined the talks of two experts on law and gender. Somoud al-Damiri and Professor Maria Wersig, a German Professor of law in social work at the University of Applied Science in Dortmund. Both assessed the role of female judges in their legal orders and the question of anti-discrimination for women.

Thursday 28th – Friday 29th June: Judge Damiri attended the Workshop “Uses of the Past: Islamic International Law and the Problem of Translation. Concepts and Applications”. This workshop, organized at Göttingen University dealt with Islamic legal narratives and practices of International law in the contemporary world and in the context of the complex political structures characterizing the Muslim world. In greater detail, the workshop addressed the question of the definition and the role of Islamic International Law in today’s global world; the working modalities of scholars discussing it and their reference to the past (siyar) in developing it; modalities of navigation of Muslim legal scholars and Muslim modern nation states between International Law and Muslim jurisprudential understandings regarding conflicts over territory, population, community and governance; strategies of “translation” of international conventions into Muslim legal discourses; reference to Islamic early and classical law when dealing with International Islamic law; main Muslim legal concepts re-defined to respond to a dominating, conflicting international order. The workshop project critically engaged and added to the increasing stream of scholarship committed to making visible the voices, interests, defeats and victories of non-Western Muslim international scholars. In this framework Judge al-Damiri participated actively, engaging with international scholars and providing the participants interesting insights into the Palestinian judicial framework.

During the above mentioned week, Judge al-Damiri also engaged directly with the students of Göttingen University, allowing them to sit with her for two interviews useful for the students to fulfill the requirements of a Seminar course on “Female Judges in the Muslim World”, held by Prof.  Schneider. She also had the opportunity to engage with the local and broader public in Göttingen through a radio interview.

Third USPPIP Workshop: “Maṣlaḥa, Siyāsa and Good Governance: Sharīʿa and Society”, 18th-20th April 2018, University of Bergen

The USPPIP team gathered in sunny Bergen for the third USPPIP workshop and were joined by an international collection of researchers to examine notions of public benefit (maṣlaḥa) and good governance.  

The programme of the workshop is available here and included key note lectures from Professors Mohammad Fadel and Felicitas Opwis.  

On Saturday 21st April, the USPPIP team gathered to develop its research agenda further with presentations on the project’s impact work and the progress of the teams in the four participating centres.

USPPIP Panel: British Association for Islamic Studies (BRAIS) conference 9-11 April 2018

The Understanding Shari’a project convened a very well-attended panel at the 2018 BRAIS conference, which was held at the University of Exeter.  Rob Gleave chaired the panel, with papers from Omar Anchassi, Mahmood Kooria and Nijmi Edres– here is the programme extract:

Uses of the Past, A Panel on the HERA-Funded Project Understanding Sharī`a: Past Perfect Imperfect Present (USPPIP)

Chair: Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)

Omar Anchassi (University of Exeter) Al-Khaḍkhaḍa fī Jald `Umayra: Or, Towards a History of Onanism in Islamic Thought

Mahmood Kooria (Leiden University) Using the Past and Bridging the Gap: Premodern Islamic Legal Texts in New Media

Nijmi Edres (University of Göttingen) Uses of the Past: Gender and Shari`a in contemporary Muslim practice in Israel and Palestine

Writing Retreat in Vienna, 14th – 20th March, 2018

All four postdoctoral fellows of the USPPIP project attended the mid-term conference of HERA, held in Vienna. The conference evaluated the developments in individual projects thus far and suggested guidelines to increase the impact for the ongoing researches.

In the following days, we sat together to discuss a collaborative project and we all zoomed into the idea of writing a book together on the uses of the past in the contemporary Sharia discourses. Consequently, we​ talked about the overall frame and focus of the book, along with its central questions and arguments.

It was a very challenging but exciting exercise to find common threads and themes between our individual researches on violence, gender, custom and governance. The intensive discussions with the historical beauty of Vienna in the background proved to be quite refreshing. We explored different nuances and lacunae through more and more conversations. The spacious and vibrant cafes of Vienna provided a quite friendly and warm ambience for work and we carried out many of our discussions in such cafes, along with restaurants, trams, and buses. I very much enjoyed our continuous conversations outside ​the ​usual academic platforms.

The book we have in mind will be unique for its rarest combinations of sources, disciplines, areas, themes of Islamic law together with its fusion of four authors’ ideas and words in each and every ​sentence.

Eirik Hovden, who had lived in Vienna for four years as a fellow at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, took us through several parts of the city. Through his guidance we could immediately feel at home in this spectacular city. Apart from numerous fascinating monuments, we also visited the magnificent State Hall (Prunksaal) of the National Library of Austria and the Weltmuseum Wien, two most vivid spots of the Austrian imperial extravaganzas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The city as such is an open visual treat for visitors and there is something or the other that always surprises you from small roadside attractions to monumental churches.

I am very happy that we could start working on this book in such a beautiful atmosphere at the bank of the Danube River where the past of Habsburgs, Ottomans, Communists, Nazis, Soviets, Americans, French and British flows through the veins of its presence in different forms and levels of everyday life.

HERA mid-term conference 14-15th March, Vienna

The four post-docs of Exeter, Leiden, Göttingen and Bergen teams attended the HERA mid-term conference in Vienna on March 14th and 15th. The event provided a great chance for members of the US-PPIP project to engage in intellectual discussion and to share their experience with members of other “Uses of the Past” projects. On the first day, the US-PIPP team joined the discussion on “Changing uses of (different) pasts”, reasoning around the following questions: how is historical knowledge created, defined and validated? What constitutes “‘misuse” of the past? What are the dynamics and consequences of competing narratives of the past? The team actively contributed to the discussion by presenting a position statement on the topic and commenting on others’ statements.  

On March 15th, we had the chance to attend two practical workshops to explore strategies of knowledge exchange with non-academic partners and communication with policy makers. The event was a great opportunity for the US-PPIP post-docs also to expand academic networks and to start a meaningful discussion on “Uses of the Past” with other teams. In particular, we engaged in an interesting intellectual exchange and established contacts with members of the HERILIGION project.

Islamic Law & Sexuality Conference 9th – 11th January 2018

Participants met in Exeter for an international conference organised around the themes of sexuality, gender and violence in Islamic Law. A number of attendees remarked on the refreshing focus on these issues; it was rare for an event to be so preoccupied, facilitating such evidently fruitful conversations between specialists. Proceedings began with a keynote address by Kecia Ali of Boston University on the subject of female agency (and the denial thereof) in premodern Islamic legal texts, especially the Mudawwana of Saḥnūn (d. 240/855). She also addressed the challenges of teaching sensitive subjects (such as slave-concubinage) in an age of Islamophobia, as well as the promises and perils of talking to the media. Her lecture was followed by a lively and engaging discussion on the themes of representation and the grammatical nuances of the passage she presented from the Mudawwana, and their implications. There followed two days of papers, representing an impressive range of geographic foci and disciplinary approaches. Modern and Premodern Muslim discourses on sexuality both featured; notably, there was an entire panel on the (re)imagining of the legal tradition in Muslim minority communities in the United States. Papers in this panel combined social-scientific and philological approaches, while exhibiting an interest in the social media dimension of these contemporary debates. There was also a panel on the question of child marriage, which addressed diachronic shifts in the discussion of the practice (boys came to feature much less heavily than girls, over the course of time), as well as the justifications of these by jurists in different periods, which were judged to be inadequate. Some papers were historical; others were decidedly confessional, and important contributions in the beginning session sought to problematise this distinction. Rumee Ahmed concluded that contributors to debates on sexuality in Islamic Law, both with and without the tradition, were equally implicated in ‘doing’ tradition.

Wissam Halawi introduced the discussion of Druze legal norms to the broader conversation about Islamic Law, forcing participants to think harder about the importance of comparativist study and the need to correct the sectarian myopia of previous work on the subject. Many papers raised methodological questions about the study of Islamic Law; this was a theme participants returned to again and again, and was emphasised in the concluding session. Antonia Bosanquet’s paper on inter-religious marriage was equally memorable; somewhat surprisingly, she demonstrated Ibn Qayyim’s (d. 751/1350) commitment to the dissolution of marriages in which non-Muslim husbands converted while their spouses remained as non-Muslims, on the grounds that this would impose intolerable burdens on unconverted wives. Overall, the conference was a great success, and a number of participants committed themselves to contributing chapters towards an edited volume, which will hopefully preserve some of the breadth and learning of the original event for posterity.

Governance and Violence in Islamic Law Workshop: University of Exeter 24th November 2017

The USPPIP workshop “Governance and Violence in Islamic law” was held on Friday 24th November 2017 at the University of Exeter. This workshop combined the two research foci “governance” and “violence” in Islamic law and was organised by the Exeter and Bergen team respectively, namely Professor Robert Gleave and Dr. Omar Anchassi in Exeter and Professor Knut Vikør and Dr. Eirik Hovden from Bergen. After an open call for papers, the programme was filled with both senior and junior scholars with a diversity of geographic background. 

The invited speakers were Nesrine Badawi from the American University of Cairo; Usaama al‐Azami from Markfield Institute of Higher Education; Gunnar J. Weimann from Leiden University; Adnan Zulfiqar from Rutgers University; Tukur Mukhtar from Usmanu Danfodiyo University; Naveen Kanalu Ramamurthy from UCLA and Zubair Abbasi from Lahore University of Management Sciences. Present were also several local UK and Exeter scholars of Islamic law. 

While the invited speakers presented cases of individual research, common themes of discussion were how governance and violence are related in Islamic legal thought and how Islamic law has been used to justify a wide range of practices by typical state actors as well as non-state actors and vigilante groups.

Nordic Seminar on Islamic Legal Studies 19th – 20th October 2017, University of Bergen

A friend advised me to occupy the window seat for the in-bound flight to Bergen, a decision I’m glad to have taken.  On our descent, the dark green islets of Norway began to appear, scattered in the cold of the North Sea.  Many were inhabited, and as we flew past I traced the outlines of houses, sheds and ramshackle piers.  I tried to imagine the apparently rather solitary lives of those island folk; I wondered whether they had to return to the mainland for their necessaries, or if these were available in the larger ones in periodically restocked stores.

Even our afternoon descent could not have prepared me for the beauty of the city, particularly the views out to the bay.  I had a few hours to collect impressions before an evening meal with colleagues.  Many of the houses were built, or at least clad, in brightly painted planks of wood; many of the central streets were cobbled, especially in the hilly areas towards the ‘fingers’ of Bergen, projecting out to sea.  I made a circuit of these and walked between the various bridges linking Bergen’s stony prominences; there were some excellent views along elevated paths laid out with evening walkers in mind.  The air was cold and sharp, the sky mostly clear; I was later told that the weather had markedly improved since the previous few days.  The city itself was immaculately clean.  I immediately decided that it was the most attractive of the four project cities, even if the surrounding mountains, heavily forested, did give it an ominous air.  I also thought that Exeter was better off without a leprosy museum!  I would have visited it, had there been more time.  After reconnoitring the seminar venue, I found a smallish mosque besides the campus.  One of three in the city, and none of them purpose-built, I was informed.  After dinner, at which I noticed that reports of the exorbitance of the prices had not been exaggerated, I retired for some light reading and an early-ish night.

We convened for lunch, at which I had the pleasure of being introduced to those academics I hadn’t met already.  I was (and remain) very new to the Scandinavian academic ‘scene’.  There were some with legal backgrounds and a few anthropologists; others came from a more obviously Islamic Studies background, though it was enriching to have so many diverse specialties in the same place.  This was evident from the comments on each paper; the discussion always seemed to overrun, such that we were perpetually behind time.  But it was tremendous fun throughout.  I particularly enjoyed papers on the practice of mahr (which, it was emphasised, is very different from dowry, for which an obscure Norwegian term was used) among the Iranian émigré community; the amounts involved were not always nominal, nor was the practice unknown among the ostensibly non-observant; I also had many questions (continued later over dinner) for presenters on family courts in the Egyptian and Syrian contexts.  These were far and away the most interesting to me personally.  I learned that Syrian integration of family courts into the civil court structure (including the marginalisation of `ulamā’ as court personnel) predated the founding of the UAR.  I had the distinct impression that Egyptian judges were (to put it frankly) woefully unfamiliar with the legal tradition they sought to uphold, most of them being uninterested in and/or incapable of accessing the pre-modern heritage.  The presenter also had some very entertaining anecdotes from her fieldwork in Egypt.  I also enjoyed learning about various schisms among the Ibāḍīs, groups whose existence I had read of a long time ago but whose divergences apparently remained vital questions in some parts of the Muslim world.

I had just enough time for another evening walk before we met the next morning for more papers.  I left with a very high opinion of Scandinavian scholarship, and with considerable gratitude to our hosts for their warmth and hospitality.

“Gender and Sharīʿah in Muslim Legal Theory and Practice” Conference, Göttingen University, 12-14 October 2017

The Conference, organized by Prof. Dr. Irene Schneider and Dr. Nijmi Edres (Seminar für Arabistik, Göttingen University), is the second conference of the Project “Understanding Sharia: Past Perfect/Imperfect Present” (US-PPIP) and took place in collaboration with the other partners of the US-PPIP project: the Universities of Exeter, Leiden and Bergen.

US-PPIP’s research in Göttingen aims at arguing the existing research and examining how courts and legal practitioners, as well as legal theorists, use past notions of gender relations and supposedly “ideal” roles to make judgements, give legal decisions and develop “authentic” Islamic role models.

Being part of this broad project the conference aimed at investigating two main issues: how Muslim judges and scholars use legal tradition to assess modern gender roles and deal with women’s rights? How are gender roles in the Prophet’s time related to the requirements of a society of the 21st century?

During first two days, special reference has been made to Palestinian cases, being the research of Prof. Dr. Irene Schneider and Dr. Nijmi Edres focused on the Muslim Palestinian communities living inside the Israeli borders and the West Bank. On Saturday the perspective got broader, touching different locales, from Jordan to the Indian Ocean.

The Conference was opened on Thursday 12th of October with a public lecture held by Prof. Joseph Massad, invited as keynote speaker. Dr. Joseph Massad, Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies (MESAAS) of Columbia University-New York, addressed the broad topic of “Traditionalizing Modernity”. In his speech Prof. Massad presented the various historical transformations of Shari’a into a modern European-style code as emerged in several locales, from colonial India and Algeria to the Ottoman Empire, acknowledging the entangled connections between the historical transformation of Muslim law and the European colonial project in Asia and Africa. The speech offered a wide framework useful to introduce and contextualize the core issues addressed by the conference and, thanks to highly critical insights, opened up the debate about the notions of “gender” and “egalitarianism” and the possibilities of radical reformulations and juridical change in gender relations in both Europe and the Arab world.

On Friday 13th the first panel focused on the direct experience of two practitioners: qadi Iyad Zahalka (Shari’a Court of Jerusalem, Israeli Shari’a Court of Appeal) and qadi Somoud al-Damiri (Supreme Judge Department, Palestine). In his speech Zahalka addressed the notion of “egalitarianism” presenting his perspective as a Muslim judge working in the Shari’a Courts in Israel. From the other side of the green Line, the paper sent by qadi Somoud al-Damiri (read by Prof. Irene Schneider) provided an overview of the different juridical systems overlapping in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Moreover, it offered an interesting point of view on the work of female judges in the West Bank and their commitments to gender equality, presenting a review of legal texts on personal status issues, judicial implementation and observations for further improvement of women’s rights.

The debate on Palestinian female judges and their position in the West bank has been developed also by legal anthropologist Laila Abed Rabho (Truman Research Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who further discussed “the appointment of female Qadis (judges) in the Sharia court, Palestine as a case study”. From the same anthropological perspective, the paper of Ido Shahar (Haifa University) dealt with “the socio-legal consequences of the dissolution of mixed marriages” presenting two interesting cases from Israel.

On Friday afternoon, the lawyer perspective was presented by Moussa Abou Ramadan (DRES; Strasbourg University) and Mutaz Qafisheh (Hebron University). In his talk, Mutaz Qafisheh introduced the legislative process that in West Bank and the Gaza Strip lead to reform Palestinian family law in light of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), without reservations. The highly critical paper underlined, despite political will to ensure gender equality and legislative enactment line with international standards, the difficulties towards a real change of practices and the necessity of a comprehensive reform process involving socio-economical, educational and cultural transformations of the Palestinian society. Similar in its provoking slant, the paper of Moussa Abou Ramadan addressed the dual legal system of religious and civil law in Israel underlying distortions in the implementation of rights and duties of husbands and wives, focusing on child support allotted to Muslim children in family courts in Israel. Children rights were at the core of the paper of Nijmi Edres (Göttingen University) as well. Her talk focused on “the conceptualization of the ‘interest of the child’ through the use of the classical concept of ‘haqq Allah’” by Palestinian judges with Israeli citizenship and highlighted the complexities and the implications of such a conceptualization in the Israeli context. The same focus on the use of legal tradition in contemporary times was shared by Irene Schneider (Göttingen University), whose paper addressed “Uses of the Past in the Textbook for the Course of Personal Status Law at Birzeit University/West Bank (Winter Semester 2013/14)”.

On Saturday morning, the conference works were opened by Yitzhak Reiter (Ashkelon Academic College), who compared two case studies of Women Activism at Jerusalem Holy Places, Murabitat al-Aqsa and the Women of the Wall, considering how they creatively represent themselves in relation to their struggles and their different religious values. The attention of the participants turned then to Jordan, thanks to Doerthe Engelcke (Max Plank Institute for Comparative and International Private Law), who addressed “the Legal Practice of the Greek Orthodox Court in Amman: between Legal Borrowing and Clerical Authoritarianism”, giving the participants the possibility to compare the attitudes of Muslim judges in Israel and the West Bank to those of the Orthodox colleagues in the neighboring country. The last three speeches of the conference were addressed by members of the USPPIP project, Omar Anchassi, Robert Gleave and Mahmood Khooria, who focused on the relations between gender and Islamic law considering the use of Muslim legal tradition and the attitudes of Muslim judges towards three different issues. The paper of Omar Anchassi (Exeter University) analyzed “Juristic Attitudes to female Literacy from the Formative to Modern Periods”, exploring the elements used by Muslim jurists to discourage female literacy on various grounds. Differently, the paper of Robert Gleave (Exeter University) explored ritual restrictions on women during menstruation through the examination of a particular set of hadith found in Shi’i collections. Finally, Mahmood Kooria (Leiden University) analyzed jihad discourses of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century against matrilineal customs.

The conference works were closed with a wrap up by Monika Lindbekk (University of Oslo), who underlined the recurrence of four core topics in the talks addressed by the speakers: uses of the past in legal discourse and practice; gender implications of uses of an “Islamic past”; gender and judicial authority (with special reference to the experience of female judges); theory and practice in relation to the wider social formation.