Law and Society Review Special Issue Introduction: Islamic Law, Society, and the State

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Law and Society Review Special Issue Introduction:
Islamic Law, Society, and the State
Tamir Moustafa Jeffrey Adam Sachs
Islamic law occupies a relatively minor place in the legal systems
of most Muslim-majority countries, with jurisdiction often limited
to matters of family law. In a smaller number of countries, its
reach includes criminal and constitutional matters as well. Yet
whatever its formal scope, state claims to Islamic law frequently
generate controversy and contention. There is a certain irony
here: most states that seek to regulate Islamic law do so with the
expectation that its role can be carefully stage managed and chor-
eographed. Instead, state leaders more typically find themselves
contending with new demands and unexpected forms of claims-
making; whether from women’s groups advocating for gender
equality grounded in Islam, from conservative groups calling for
the adoption of an Islamic criminal code, or from liberals and sec-
ularists challenging the state’s claim to Islamic law altogether.
When it comes to Islamic law, everyone has an opinion.
Many readers will understand these struggles as a politics of
tradition versus modernity. But the collection of essays that make
up this special issue of Law & Society Review present a different
perspective. They demonstrate that contention around Islamic
law is, in fact, a quintessentially modern phenomenon. That is to
say, the present-day politics of Islamic law are both unique to the
contemporary era and contingent on modern state institutions for
their expression and distinctive salience. This special issue focuses
on what state regulation of Islamic law gives rise to—the new
forms of politics it creates, the governing strategies it enables, the
modes of resistance it makes possible, and the types of legal or
religious consciousness it generates.
More generally, this special issue is intended to connect socio-
legal scholars with new research at the intersection of Islamic law
and society. This is a bridge that is sorely missing at present.
Terms such as “Islamic law” “shari‘a,” and “fatwa” are widely cir-
These debates are often intertwined with a variety of other issues: ethnic politics,
patriarchy, critiques of government abuse of power,and so forth.
Law & Society Review, Volume 52, Number 3 (2018)
©2018 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.

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