Whereas some Muslim-majority countries have centralized alms economies, in others Islamic charity unfolds informally. In Egypt, pious giving occurs on the margins of the state but lies at the heart of society. Egyptians’ daily charitable practices may therefore be read as political in the broad sense proposed by Hannah Arendt: efforts by ordinary citizens to shape the conditions of their collective existence. Although this Arendtian framework helps scholars to think about politics beyond the parameters of the state, even such widened notions of the political are not consistent with how pious givers in Egypt understand their practices. While attending to the poor, pious givers often orient themselves away from the social and material, foregrounding the beyond, paradise and God. Even though the “beyond” is intimately connected to the “here and now,” this decentering of the social poses a provocative challenge to the secular observer’s search for the political.
This article examines the interaction of Coptic Christians with Islamic legal institutions in provincial Egypt on the basis of a corpus of 193 Arabic legal documents, as well as relevant Coptic ones, dating to the 2nd-5th/8th-11th centuries. I argue that around the 3rd/9th century Islamic Egypt’s Christian subjects began to make routine use of Islamic legal institutions to organize their economic affairs, including especially inheritance and related matters internal to Christian families. They did so in preference to the Christian authorities and Coptic deeds that had been their standard resource in the first two centuries of Muslim rule. The changing character of the Egyptian judiciary encouraged this shift in practice, as qāḍīs who adhered to fiqh procedural rules increasingly filled judicial roles formerly held by administrative officials. By eschewing and nudging into disuse a previously vital Coptic legal tradition, Christian provincials participated in the Islamization of ʿAbbāsid and Fāṭimid Egypt.
Salafism is a global religious movement whose male participants often distinguish themselves from their co-religionists by a particular style of facial hair. Historians have focused largely on this movement’s engagement with questions of theology and politics, while anthropologists have assumed that Salafi practice reflects a longer Islamic tradition. In this article, I move beyond both approaches by tracing the gradual formation of a distinctly Salafi beard in the 20th century Middle East. Drawing on Salafi scholarly compendia, leading journals, popular pamphlets, and daily newspapers produced primarily in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I argue that Salafi elites revived a longer Islamic legal tradition in order to distinguish their flock from secular nationalist projects of communal identity and Islamic activists alike. In doing so, I cast light on Salafism’s interpretative approach, the dynamics that define its development as a social movement, and the broader significance of visual markers in modern projects of Islamic piety.
Amidst the politics of the Mamluk-era spice route, why did the standard-bearers of Islamic law routinely oppose the sultanate’s imposition of an alms-tax on merchandise (zakāt al-tijāra), despite the abundance of support for such a tax within the classical tradition of Islamic law? Rather than contending – as some modern scholars have – that prominent jurists developed loopholes that circumvented the original intent of the law to protect the wealthy and the ruling class, I argue that it was precisely the jurists’ careful defense of exemptions and exclusions that allowed them to define the essence of zakāt against forms of taxation they considered unlawful. By narrowing the scope of zakāt, jurists attempted to achieve a moral aim that went beyond the ritual purification of wealth: a limit on the sultanate’s otherwise arbitrary power to tax Muslims as it wished. In doing so, they alleviated some of the tax burden for spice merchants and camel herders alike.
Over the last four years, India has become the centre for a major experiment in the implementation of a so-called ‘gender-just Islam’ by Islamic feminist organisations: the formation of a non-official, female-led sharī‘ah court network, within which women serve as qāẓīs (religious judges) to adjudicate disputes within Muslim families. Presenting themselves as counterweights to more patriarchal legal bodies, including both the official judiciary and unofficial dispute resolution forums, these sharī‘ah‘adālats employ both state-centred and community-focused strategies to assist Muslim women experiencing marital or family-related strife. Based on interviews with female qāẓīs and associated documentary sources, I examine how the women who run these courts adjudicate family conflicts according to what they understand as both the Qur’an’s ethical teachings, and its stipulations regarding the proper methods of dispute resolution. I also argue that these all-female sharī‘ah‘adālats reflect a shift of focus away from court litigation and legislative intervention, and towards non-state, arbitration-focused practices, as the most fruitful means to protect the needs of Muslim women in contemporary India.
In most Muslim-majority countries, the legislators who drafted family law codes sought to produce a codified version of one of the many Islamic fiqh schools. Such is the case, from West to East, for Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia. There are situations, however, in which the law remains silent. In such cases, judges must turn to fiqh in order to find appropriate provisions. It is up to judges to interpret the law and to locate the relevant rule. In this process, judges use new interpretive techniques and modes of reasoning. After addressing institutional and legal transformations in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia, this article focuses on the domain of family law. We examine cases that illustrate how judges seek a solution in the body of fiqh when asked to authenticate a marriage. In conclusion, we put forward an argument about how judges who are required to refer to fiqh deal with this matter within the context of positive, codified, and standardized law. We argue that the methodology and epistemology adopted by contemporary judges, the legal material on which they draw, and the means by which they refer to this material have fundamentally altered the nature of legal cognition and of law itself.