Workshop on Islamic Norms and Legal Processes: The Interactions of Legal Practices and Theoretical Formulations

Workshop on Islamic Norms and Legal Processes

The Interactions of Legal Practices and Theoretical Formulations

On 6 and 7 July 2009, AKU-ISMC hosted a workshop on Islamic norms and legal processes, chaired by Dr John Bowen, Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts and Sciences at the Washington University in St Louis. 

Bowen introduced the workshop as an opportunity to survey the work that has been conducted on legal anthropology in Muslim contexts, and raise questions about normativity, change and variation. 

"It is important to understand the exact process that a judge undertakes when he or she renders judgement. There is a general misperception that Islamic law is something contained in a book, that judges read and enforce rigorously," Bowen said.

"However, the reality is that shari'a is a heterogeneous set of legal traditions which are informed by customs, society, people and their understanding of and interaction with it," Bowen stated.

Drawing on work conducted by anthropologists and scholars of law, the workshop examined case studies from England, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Syria and Tanzania. 

Through these studies, participants sought to create a systematic framework for comparative study, based on the working hypothesis that legal practices and theoretical formulations of norms shape each other in a dialectical fashion. 

When practitioners deal with cases or questions, they formulate justifications for their decisions or answers, and these justifications then contribute to new overall formulations which shape future practices.

The workshop explored the interaction between two social practices - the rendering of judgements in courts and tribunals on the one hand, and formulating normative theory about Islam on the other. In doing so, presenters sought to 'de-exoticise' the work of Muslim judges, thereby avoiding a generalised study of Islamic norms. 

Discussions illustrated how judges charged with drawing on shari'a take theoretical formulations into account and consider their tasks, their sources, and the logic of their judgments, thus providing new insights into how judgements are actually made across courtrooms, in various Muslim contexts.

Through the development of a nuanced understanding of the process of decision-making in Muslim legal contexts, the workshop served to "normalise" these practices, and introduce them into mainstream discussions and debates about law. 

Workshop participants

  • Hussein Agrama (Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
  • Shaheen Sardar Ali (Professor of Law,  University of Warwick) 
  • John Bowen (Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor in Arts and Science at Washington University at St Louis)
  • Jessica Carlisle (Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University)
  • Baudouin  Dupret (CNRS and Louvain University)
  • Ziba Mir-Hosseini (Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; freelance researcher and consultant on gender and development issues)
  • Khalid Masud (Chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology, Government of Pakistan)
  • Werner Menski (Professor of South Asian Laws, Department of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
  • Brinkley Messick (Professor of Anthropology and Chairman, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University)
  • Arskal Salim (Postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
  • Erin Stiles (Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada)
  • Narendra Subramanian (Associate Professor of Political Science, McGill University)
  • Luiz Filipe Thomaz (Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Catholic University) 
  • Sylvia Vatuk (Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology,  University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Abdou Filali-Ansary (Director, AKU-ISMC)
  • Arif Jamal  (Senior Instructor, AKU-ISMC)
  • Karim Vissangy (AKDN)

Online Resources