Roundtable on Islamic Legal History and Historiography: Week in Review

On December 10, 2020, the Islamic Law Blog launched its Roundtable on Islamic Legal History & Historiography: Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law, edited by Intisar Rabb (Editor-in-Chief) and Mariam Sheibani (Lead Blog Editor). The Roundtable’s inaugural introductory essay Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law: Introduction,” is authored by Intisar Rabb, who succinctly introduces the themes and purpose of the roundtable, highlighting the most significant developments in the field from the mid-19th century to the present. Launched in December 2020, the Roundtable will continue through January 2021, and culminate in a live discussion in February via Zoom. This week, we featured two essays. Here they are below in case you missed them:

The eleventh contribution, entitled “Rethinking Dichotomies: Beyond Continuity and Rupture in Islamic Law in the Colonial Period,” is by Sohaira Siddiqui (Georgetown University in Qatar). She begins her essay by challenging the explanatory force that “dichotomies” wield in explaining history. The dichotomy of “continuity vs. rupture,” for example, is prevalent in Islamic scholarship, but is, she contends, overly reductive. Instead of seeing a bright-line “colonial moment” that divides two historical periods and generates a sense of rupture from a unified past, can we speak of “legal contestation, transformation, and reformulation” that better explains colonialism in parts of the Islamic world? Siddiqui urges scholars to answer this question with close analysis of transmitted texts and the history of courts and other institutions.

The twelfth contribution to the Roundtable is “Pluralistic Methodologies in Islamic Legal Historiography,” jointly authored by Metin M. Cosgel (University of Connecticut) and Bogac A. Ergene (University of Vermont). In their essay, the authors make the case for “a pluralistic approach to the study of Islamic legal history,” through the lens of law and economics and other types of quantitative analysis. Regression analysis, they suggest, provides especially useful approaches suited to interdisciplinary studies of historical events. To illustrate, the authors describe the findings of their previous scholarship on Ottoman court records, for which they coded data on court petitions and were able to arrive at generalizable conclusions about access to early modern courts. Noting the uptick in digitized primary sources in the field, they predict an increase in Islamic legal scholarship that integrates quantitative analysis.

Please join us in thanking our contributing scholars, Sohaira Siddiqui, Metin M. Cosgel and Bogac A. Ergene for their thought-provoking contributions. Next week we look forward to publishing new essay contributions to the Roundtable. Stay tuned!

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