In the News: Revkin on ISIS’s Legal System

Last week’s New York Times article on “The Case of the Purloined Poultry: How ISIS Prosecuted Petty Crime” describes the implementation of Islamic criminal law in Iraq under ISIS. According to Mara Revkin of Yale University, providing open and quick access to justice was one way that ISIS tried to distinguish itself from the Iraqi government: “ISIS seemed to recognize early on that it could exploit local demands for dignity by listening to people’s complaints and problems and offering some fast solutions,” she told The Times. This article complements Revkin’s 2016 piece for the SHARIAsourceBlog on “The Construction and Failure of Islamic Laws of Evidence in ISIS’s State-Building Project.” As a guest contributor, she argued that behind ISIS’s violent and barbaric acts was a system of laws used to justify its political authority. Revkin proposed then that “the lawmaking and law-enforcing institutions of the Islamic State can be studied as an internally coherent legal system, even though the rules of this system are ‘unlawful’ from the external perspective of international and human rights law.” She thus examined the role of evidence in that legal system, noting that “the Islamic State’s crackdown on petty crime and its rapid resolution of local disputes has been welcomed by some residents of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, who prefer its harsh brand of Islamic justice to the alternative: total lawlessness. But on the other hand, as the Islamic State’s bureaucracy has expanded, it has become increasingly difficult for the group to prevent internal corruption, bribery, and other forms of indiscipline.”

For more commentary and primary sources related to Islamic criminal law, select “Criminal Law” from the list of topics and themes on the SHARIAsource Portal.