In his major study, Histoire de l’organisation judiciaire en pays d’Islam, Emile Tyan offered the first tentative synthesis of the organisation and functioning of the main medieval Islamic courts. Tyan relied on the sources available at his time and tried to reconstruct from scattered material a coherent picture of judicial institutions that he regarded relatively homogenous in time and space. Many researchers have since complemented, qualified and even rejected some of his findings. More recently, several regional studies have given us a far more complex and nuanced picture of these institutions. Notwithstanding these efforts, the plurality of judicial organization tends to be neglected or simply overshadowed. The purpose of this conference is to reconstruct several aspects of this plurality, by focusing on the functions of different judicial institutions and the interactions between them during the medieval and modern periods.
Although qadis (pl. qudat) are the most well known judges of medieval and modern Islam, they did not by any means monopolise judicial practice. Other institutions exercised judicial prerogatives, like the police (shurta), market inspectors (muhtasib), provincial governors, etc. There were also special courts which dispensed “military” justice (qada’ al-‘askar) or, as in the case of the mazalim court, what has been called “secular” justice. The actual functioning of these courts is still poorly known, perhaps because the authors of our sources, who were ‘ulama’, did not recognise them as belonging to the same range of legitimate institutions as the office of the qadi. A consequence of this is that the boundaries between different jurisdictions cannot easily be defined, as is shown by the still unsolved problem of the actual competences of qadis in criminal matters.
A better understanding of these judicial institutions requires a reappraisal of the way in which Islamic justice was articulated and the interactions that existed between different types of courts. Specialists of medieval and modern Islam (up until the end of the Ottoman period) are invited to propose papers on the following topics:
1. Institutional borders:
- Can we determine the respective fields of competence of judicial institutions?
- Did different courts specialize in particular types of disputes, or, were there cases where jurisdictions overlapped?
- Who defined borders between jurisdictions (ruler, private jurists, both of them, etc.)?
2. Institutional interactions:
- Did different types of court work independently from each other, or were there interactions between them?
- What kind of relationships developed between judicial institutions and how were they articulated in practice?
- Is it possible to detect traces of competition between institutions?
3. Institutions as political and social tools:
- What role did each type of court play within the society? Can we distinguish differences on the basis of their political or social role?
- What was the symbolic use of courts?
- To what degree did rulers use these judicial institutions for political means?
- What picture do the available sources give of courts, and how does it relate to possible attempts at manipulating these institutions?
- Can we detect explicit or implicit criticism of judicial institutions and of their social and political use in the sources?
The conference will be hold in Damascus (Syria), at the French Cultural Center, on 16-17 May 2012. Papers can be presented in one of the three following languages, English, French, or Arabic. A conference volume will be published at Ifpo.
Interested participants are invited to send a title and an abstract (maximum 300 words) to Mathieu Tillier (mathieu.tillier [AT] univ-provence.fr) before 5 June 2011.
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