Institutt for sosialantropologi

Justice between Islamic Shari’a and Western Legal Tradition: Remarks on the Egyptian Context

Dr HUSSEIN ALI AGRAMA University of Colorado 30.8.2013 13.15 Seminar room 843, 8th floor,Fosswinckelsgt. 6


ABSTRACT: How does one compare and contrast potentially very different traditions of law without as-suming any common conception of law? How does one stage a comparison of such traditions in the face of their mutual engagement under historical conditions of asymmetric power that render one of them com-mensurable to the other? These are some of the central questions this paper begins to address through a series of loosely related, ethnographically inspired reflections on the concept of justice within Western legal tradition and the Islamic Shari’a, with respect to modern Egypt. It focuses on the particular problem that the violence of law is seen to pose for the enactment of justice within Western legal thought and prac-tice. Arguing that this problem is of relatively recent origin, the paper outlines some of the historically emergent forms of sociability, modes of authority, and structures of coercion that contribute to its for-mation, and that give rise to a distinctive conception of politics that persists into the present. Contrasting this with classical Shari’a thought and historical practices, the paper then points to how these forms of sociability, authority and coercion – and the concept of politics they made possible – insinuated them-selves into the fabric of Egyptian society through the colonizing and modernizing projects that established European based civil law there; it also reflects on how this produced the complicated pattern of similarity, difference, commensurability and incommensurability that exists today between Egyptian civil law and Islamic Shari’a.