CanCode: Canonization and Codification of Islamic Legal Texts
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Interview with Nijmi Edres

Dr. Nijmi Edres is a researcher in the CanCode project from April to December 2022. In this interview you can read more about her work in the CanCode project.

Photo nijmi edres
N Edres

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Question: First, congratulations about your new job as assistant professor at the University of Bern. Could tell us a bit more about your new job?

The institute for Islamic and Middle Easter Studies in Bern has recently changed its name into Institute for the study of the Middle East and Muslim Societies, strengthening its focus on the geographical region of the Middle East, gender and sexuality studies and media studies in modern and contemporary times. My expertise on gender, Islamic law and the Palestinian and Israeli field will contribute to this area, while I will also keep developing a second research focus, specifically on educational media and especially on Islamic education in the region.

Question:  Regarding your research in the CanCode project: How do you use concepts of canonization and codification to examine processes of legal change and stability in the field of Muslim family law for Palestinians?

Answer: In different historical periods several codes of family law have been imposed to Palestinian people. While Muslim Palestinians inside Israel are still bound to the Ottoman Family Rights Law of 1917 and discuss the necessities to provide changes according to contemporary times and needs, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have discussed the way to emancipate themselves from Egyptian and Jordanian codes, also debating the idea of a unified Palestinian legislation. I use the concepts of codification,  canonization and standardization to address the agency of Palestinian people in the field of Muslim family law and to investigate about their efforts to bring about change and stability in the law, while attempting at preserving their autonomy and identity. In my work I focus on Palestinians in Israel, and I understand canonization and codification as two elements of a continuum, involving a process of simplification and standardization of legal principles. My work aims at contributing to the scholarly debate about ‘informal codes’ produced by shari’a courts’ judges, the discussion about the way they interpret fiqh rules and authorize certain interpretations instead of others in contemporary times, and the strategies used to drive such modern changes to ‘canonicity’.

Question: What kind of texts are central to your study?

Answer: I mainly look at the work of contemporary Palestinian shari’a courts’ judges, and at their dialectic reactions to the challenges posed by modern Palestinian feminists in the field. This implies reference to a wide bunch of textual genres and normative texts , such as court judgments (aḥkām), commentaries and textbooks for legal practitioners. I am particularly interested in textbooks as they represent a kind of “practical texts” or “support literature” often marginalized in the discussion on processes of legal transformation. Nonetheless, part of the process of ‘canonization’ of legal concepts and interpretations passes through educational material, especially when changes are directed to other judges and practitioners. In response, my work specifically focuses on a manual used by contemporary legal practitioners in both processes of adjudication and as support material to prepare for the examination for the judgeship position. The work, titled al-Muršid fī al-qaḍā' al-šaraʿiyy, was published in 2009,authored by judge Iyad Zahalka, sitting today among the judges of the Shari’a Court of Appeals in West Jerusalem.

Question: How does your work at the CanCode project fit into your broader academic interests?

Working at the CanCode project, exchanging ideas with the colleagues in the team and with those who participated in the events organized by the project has enabled me with the possibility to enlarge my understanding on the role and the use of textbooks in the construction of Muslim legal canons and in processes of identity building. This reflects on my previous academic interest on textbooks as vehicles of social change and will hopefully contribute to my future research, as an Assistant Professor at the University of Bern, on the construction and re-shaping of Muslim collective identities through educational materials in contemporary times.