Weekend Scholarship Roundup

  • In “Levity Makes the Law: Islamic Legal Riddles” (Islamic Law and Society 27, no.3 (2020)), Matthew Keegan traces the emergence of compilations of a particular kind of legal riddle in the 8th/14th century, with special reference to the compilation of Ibn Farhun (s. 799/1397). Keegan states that Ibn Farhun’s riddles could be solved only by someone with detailed knowledge of Islamic positive law (furu’), and he argues that they are both an appropriate form of restful entertainment and a kind of competitive pedagogy. He continues to explain that Ibn Farhun derived novel legal opinions on the basis of his riddles, which he says demonstrates that jurists used hypothetical, imaginative situations to derive new rulings. The article also traces the origins of furuí-based legal riddles in the more diffuse tradition of Islamic riddling.
  • Fluid Jurisdictions: Colonial Law and Arabs in Southeast Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020), written by Nurfadzilah Yahaya, tells the story of the Arab diaspora within the context of British and Dutch colonialism, unpacking the community’s ambiguous embrace of European colonial authority in Southeast Asia. Yahaya looks at colonial legal infrastructure, discussing how it impacted and was impacted by Islam and ethnicity. She follows the actors who used this framework to advance their particular interests and explains how Arab minorities in the region helped fuel the entrenchment of European colonial legalities: their itinerant lives made institutional records necessary. She states that these records were stored in centralized repositories and could be presented as evidence in legal disputes and, in order to ensure accountability down the line, Arab merchants valued notarial attestation land deeds, inheritance papers, and marriage certificates by recognized state officials. She concludes that colonial subjects continually played one jurisdiction against another, sometimes preferring that colonial legal authorities administer Islam law, even against fellow Muslims.
  • Nebil Husayn examines more than a dozen laws that classical Sunni and Twelver Shi’i jurists characterized as specific to the Prophet’s progeny and Household (ahl al-bayt) in “Ahkam concerning the ahl al-bayt” (Islamic Law and Society 27, no.3 (2020)). Husayn claims that although Islamic law generally identifies all free Muslim males as equal members of society, irrespective of race or ancestry, a peculiar exception is made for those who claim patrilineal descent from the Arab chieftain Hashim b. ‘Abd Manaf, the great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad. He continues that Sunni and Shi’i authors draw on hagiography and ascribe special nobility, privileges, and customs to members of the clan of Hashim, and jurists incorporating their adoration of and respect for the Prophet’s family into their views of Islamic law. Husayn concludes that the Prophet’s identities as an Arab also conferred certain legal privilege on members of these groups.

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