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Joel Blecher


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.

Justin Jones


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.

Baudouin Dupret, Adil Bouhya, Monika Lindbekk and Ayang Utriza Yakin


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.

Mathieu Tillier and Naïm Vanthieghem


Le présent article propose l’édition de deux papyrus juridiques relatifs à la répudiation, conservés dans la collection Michaelidès de la Bibliothèque universitaire de Cambridge. Le premier, une page de titre datant du milieu du iiie/ixe siècle, suggère que le second, un extrait relatif au serment d’abstinence (īlāʾ), est attribuable au juriste mālikite égyptien Aṣbaġ b. al-Faraǧ (m. 225/840). Cet échantillon, qui pourrait constituer les seules pages survivantes du Samāʿ ou des Nawāzil de cet auteur, fait alterner des citations du Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ de Mālik et l’argumentation d’une autre autorité, peut-être Aṣbaġ lui-même ; il préserve par ailleurs la trace de controverses juridiques tant dans le milieu des savants médinois que dans celui des juristes égyptiens. Ces deux papyrus offrent ainsi un témoignage inédit sur la formation d’un maḏhab mālikite en Égypte et sur la relation dialogique qui s’instaura, dans la première moitié du iiie/ixe siècle, entre les juristes qui se réclamaient du maître médinois.

Nora Barakat


This article investigates the role of the Ottoman Nizamiye Court of First Instance in conflicts over capital between public revenue agencies and tax farmers in the Syrian district of Homs at the turn of the twentieth century. The court’s records show that it adjudicated these conflicts in exclusive reference to codified law. However, I argue that the court’s formalist adjudication responded to political and economic circumstances defined by the global fiscal crises of the 1870s. In the aftermath of these crises, tax farmers took on new roles underwriting both Ottoman public debt and foreign investment through contracts with public revenue collection agencies like the Public Debt Administration. These agencies employed codified law to garner as much of tax farmers’ profits as possible. Tax farmers used the same law to contest these efforts and leverage their new economic influence to maintain control over regional markets and land. The court’s formalist rulings served the prerogatives of imperial sovereignty and solvency.

Balaniyot, Baths and Beyond

Israel’s State-Run Ritual Baths and the Rights of Women

Nahshon Perez and Elisheva Rosman-Stollman

Ritual immersion in Israel has become a major point of contention between Israeli-Jewish women and the state-funded Chief Rabbinate of Israel. In order to conduct a religious household, Orthodox Jewish women are required to immerse in a ritual bath (mikveh) approximately once a month. However, in Israel, these are strictly regulated and managed by the Chief Rabbinate, which habitually interferes with women’s autonomy when immersing. The article presents the case, then moves to discuss two models of religion-state relations: privatization and evenhandedness (roughly the modern version of nonpreferentialism), as two democratic models that can be adopted by the state in order to properly manage religious services, ritual baths included. The discussion also delineates the general lessons that can be learned from this contextual exploration, pointing to the advantages of the privatization model, and to the complexities involved in any evenhanded approach beyond the specific case at hand.

Mikhail Antonov

This paper analyzes the cultural constraints imposed in the Russian legal system by the prevailing social philosophy, which is characterized by a significant degree of religious conservatism and communitarianism. This conservatism is predictably opposed to sexual minorities and to those who want to defend or justify them. The author concludes that this philosophy strongly affects decision-making in Russian courts, and can sometimes overrule the provisions of the Russian Constitution and the laws that formally grant protection to sexual minorities. In turn, this conservative social philosophy and communitarian morality are based on religious patterns that are still shaping the mindsets and attitudes of Russians. These attitudes cannot be ignored by judges and other actors in the Russian legal system, who to some extent are subject to the general perception of what is just, acceptable, and reasonable in society, and are factually bound by this perception.