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The grammars of adjudication

Zouhair Ghazzal


Bibliographical essay

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1The reader might be surprised to realize that most of the references listed below are only indirectly linked to the topic of this book. In fact, the present bibliography is divided into several headings—even though all titles were kept alphabetically—but none which comes close to judicial decision making in Islamic, Ottoman, and Middle Eastern societies.

21. Studies on Islamic law have grown considerably in the last decades, and some of the work shows contributions from scholars who were not originally trained in the field, which brought an important intellectual challenge from other disciplines. All of this has considerably enriched studies in Islamic law, and gave it a new impetus since the early contributions of Joseph Schacht, N.A. Coulson, and Chafik Chehata. But the facile progress also came at a price, in particular when it comes to the study of individual works and authors, many of whom see their works sporadically quoted without, however, the care to analyze such a material systematically. Thus, for the purposes of this study, when I began focusing on Ibn Nujaym, Ibn ‘Ābidīn, and the Ottoman Majalla (1877), I realized that not only were there were no independent studies on their place within the anafī school, but even articles devoted to their lives or aspects of their works have still yet to materialize. Only recently an article on Ibn ‘Ābidīn by the late Norman Calder (2000) has been published, and regrettably only after his untimely death. Researchers tend to find the fiqh manuals, in all their variations, hard to deal with on an individual basis, so there is a general tendency at the moment to bypass such individualities in favor of broader themes, larger periods, and a multitude of texts that would point to a particular trend at a specific juncture. Even though such research has its own merits, it comes at the price of neglecting the essential, namely, the structure and discursive formations of individual texts and authors. This should be the case, whatever the origin of those texts, whether emanating from individual scholars, or bureaucratic institutions, or sharī‘a courts. I’ve argued in this book that texts have a “personality” of their own, hence share a common “mode of thought,” even if they remain non-associated with a single “author.” A lot of work needs to be done—in particular for a practice like the fiqh which relies so heavily on layers of interpretation—to trace all the chains of transmission (isnād) and their relevance at a specific historical juncture. We need to know how individual scholars use the work of their predecessors (which ones specifically, and what determines their choices), their logic of selecting opinions, and then how those selected opinions combine to form new texts, and where the scholar’s “own” contribution is finally situated.

32. The field of Ottoman law is much more constrained than that of Islamic law, and, as a result, it has not yet witnessed the boom of the latter, so that since Uriel Heyd’s edited lecture notes on criminal law (1973), only Baber Johansen’s studies on anafism under the Ottomans (1988, 1999), and Colin Imber’s superb biography of Ebu’s-su‘ud (1997), and more recently Wael Hallaq’s surprising findings on the Ottoman “sijills” (1998), were among the rare instances where aspects of “Ottoman law” have come under the microscope. Such large gaps in our knowledge make it even more difficult to assess discursive formations historically through an evolutionary pattern that would look at the Ottoman judiciary in its totality. Brannon Wheeler’s recent study (1996) on the logic of transmission (isnād) of opinions among anafīs is essential to understand the logic of organization of knowledge within the school, and its self-reliance on its own corpus since its first maturity by the fourth/tenth century.

43. More relevant, however, is the serious flaw which has emerged in Ottoman legal studies as a result of the vast socio-economic literature, which shaped in the last few decades our vision of the Empire, but which has used all kinds of “legal” texts (“records”)—in particular the sharī‘a courts and other regional councils—while bracketing off their “legal” context. Thus, all those “records” in all their varieties were neither used as texts nor on a case-by-case basis, thus making it impossible to discern, even remotely, the legal structure of those cases. But in the Ottoman sharī‘a system it is difficult, if not impossible, to know “winners” from “losers,” and judges favoring one party over another and thus ruling in one direction, unless we discern first the whole structure of the case (or its syntax). Many of those cases have no winners and no losers as such because they were nothing but friendly property transfers, while other properties were transmitted to women for the sake of preserving the property from an internal takeover by rival clan members, or to minimize the ravages of confiscation by state or local authorities. In short, even the “economic” implications of those texts could only be discerned through their inner strategies and nuances. Moreover, an analysis of cases as texts, whether in their legal or extra-legal contexts, would push socio-economic history to new dimensions, ones that would at least integrate its material in narratives where the “voice” of the original narrators is also alive and present.

54. Modern technology now enables students of the archives of the Ottoman Empire to reproduce them faithfully with minimal cost, if granted the permission to do so. Obviously, reproduction provides us with a permanent access to a text, which means successive revisions in analysis and interpretation in conjunction with one’s writing. Moreover, such an access allows for a continuous revision and a rethinking of court documents in conjunction with the enterprise of the fiqh, which implies a great deal of back and forth reasoning between texts of a different nature, but which nevertheless shares at times similar concerns. In short, the permanent access to documents through their reproduction is the sine qua non of any serious textual analysis, and the hope for creating a niche in that direction—one that favors language and discourse—in the midst of a literature that favors browsing-by-numbers.

6I have described elsewhere (Ghazzal, 1993) the status of the Ottoman Syrian archives in Damascus, and in Chapter 5 (note 1) the difficulties of accessing the Beirut registers. In both cities, however, I was able to photocopy what I needed, or to do photographic reproductions, so I had permanent access to all the documents used in conjunction with this book, which was indeed a privilege.

75. The law and economics schools stand in good shape in the United States (Mercuro and Medema, 1997), but are much weaker in Europe, and practically nonexistent in the Middle East. Yet, surprisingly, and despite that Max Weber’s Economy and Society went in this direction since the turn of the last century (Swedberg, 1998), hence earlier than anyone else, the American schools in all their varieties even fail to admit this fact, or to reconsider the Weberian comparative perspective and its theory of rationalization in light of common law. In conjunction with Weberianism, which presents a much more richly balanced picture of non-Western societies in their difficulties to rationalize, I became interested, through the so-called neoinstitutional law and economics, in the idea that contracting is the process through which property rights are established, assigned, or modified. Such a concept plays well in the context of the Ottoman Empire, especially in the context of an underdeveloped law of property, which, paralyzed by the massive state ownership and the status of mīrī lands, was able to  effect contractual settlements through the procedural fictions of the courts, enabling individuals to guarantee more property rights, reorganize them while bypassing the limitations of the rules of inheritance, and also bypass even more limitations within contracts themselves.

8Neoinstitutional scholars typically associate the beginnings of their efforts to two seminal articles by Ronald H. Coase: “The Nature of the Firm” (1937), and “The Problem of Social Cost” (1960) (reprinted in Coase, 1988), which led him to the reception of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991 (it takes time to admit a discovery). Since then, “the problem of transaction costs” has been extensively refined by Richard Posner (1998), Oliver Williamson (1985), and Thráinn Eggertsson (1990). But the main weakness of neoinstitutionalism resides in its inability to look beyond the deeply capitalist societies of the western hemisphere, and except for a limited contribution by Posner (1981, 1983) on law and economics in ancient Greece and some “primitive” societies, the whole issue of whether the concept of “cost” would function in pre-capitalist societies has yet to be properly addressed.

96. The two volumes by Martin Horwitz (1977, 1992) on the history of American law are essential reading for anyone hoping to understand a history of a legal system. The history of American common law gives a unique glimpse at a system which for all practical purposes grew from scratch especially in its formative period—the nineteenth century. Thus, the concepts of property, contract, tort, and crime grew considerably in that period, and considering the historical limitations of the law and economics schools, Horwitz’s approach provides a much more nuanced view of the interactions between law and its social and economic underpinnings in the United States: it was as if judges ruled and “made the law” by acknowledging the intrinsic power of laissez-faire economics and its modus operandi. Often associated with the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) approach (Kennedy, 1997), Horwitz’s démarche tends to take less for granted the benefits of liberalism and laissez-faire economics than Posner and others.

10Strangely enough, and despite the fact that common-law systems are quintessentially defined as “case-law,” and despite the institutionalization of the “case” as a major pedagogical tool in academic circles, there is very little research—in a situation that reminds us of the current scholarship on Islamic and Middle Eastern legal systems—which is based on case-analysis. Of course, in Anglo-American law cases are titled and numbered, and every law book lists them abundantly, but they nevertheless remain poorly analyzed as cases on a one-by-one basis. There is always that hidden assumption that judges “apply” the general rules, and hence case-analysis will prove redundant. Except for a recent contribution by A.W. Brian Simpson (1995), there is little to account for in this area.

117. Another major weakness in current research is the lack of perspective in respect to other periods, systems, and societies. Some recent comparative studies tend to be too rigid in their compartmentalization (e.g., Zweigert & Kötz, 1998), while others are more aggressive in handling the classical distinction between civil-law and common-law systems (e.g., Mattei, 1997, 2000).

12Alan Watson’s work (1984, 1985, 1991) stands on its own in its broad attempts to historicize various legal systems in conjunction with one another, beginning with the Roman. Watson’s main idea that legal systems do not solely evolve based on internal societal conditions and needs, but mainly by copying, patching, and adapting from other systems—the process of “reception” of Roman Law throughout Europe is one such example—is worthy of consideration. In the case of Middle Eastern societies, there has been, since the mid-nineteenth century, a process of “reception” of civil-law codes—mainly in their French and German flavors—in societies whose older doctrines and judicial systems were of a totally different nature. Needless to say, the pièce-de-résistance of research on modern Middle Eastern and Islamic legal systems ought to be on the repercussion of “reception” in those societies, and the whole problem of epistemic “continuity” with the old systems.


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