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The Rule of Law in Islam and across Civilizations – Towards Increased Dialogue of a Contested Concept

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Year: 2017
COI code: ICJE01_108
Paper Language: English

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Authors The Rule of Law in Islam and across Civilizations – Towards Increased Dialogue of a Contested Concept

David Mednicoff - PhD Assistant Professor of Public Policy at University of Massachusetts


Considering that the rule of law is among the major global political idealstoday, the amount of specific knowledge is surprisingly limited about what itmeans in detail, and how it can best serve justice, political stability or socialgrowth. Indeed, the concept has been used in recent decades without a lot ofdefinitional clarity, or bringing together a variety of meanings that are notnecessarily compatible. Most academic research on the rule of law derivesfrom Western experience, where the emphasis is on the centrality of courtcases and judicial review. Yet the role of judges remains rather constrained inmany societies, and, even where it’s important, depends on a broader range oflegal actors to function effectively. Islam is permeated with ideas of justice,and the rule of law is so central to Islamic history and values that shari’acould well mean the rule of law, among other things. Nonetheless, muchacademic and political discourse around the rule of law tends not to draw onIslamic traditions of justice or legal values, with the result that specific policydiscussions around the rule of law, such is in the sphere of human rights,frequently assume that Islamic and other articulations of the rule of law areincompatible. This paper draws on three years of novel primary research onthe meanings of the rule. conducted in several Sunni Muslim-majority nationsto think in a more nuanced manner about overlaps, and possible points oftension, in the rule of law in Islamic and non-Islamic global contexts. The dataI collected, in particular, shows that law students and rule-of-law practitionersthink of both justice and Islam as central aspects of the rule of law, andunderstand their legal values around justness and a fair society in ways thatlink to international legal norms. Thus, the paper deploys original, empiricaldata on diverse meanings of the rule of law in several Muslim societies toclarify specific ways that justice and ethics around a just polity overlap withkey ideals of contemporary international law. The paper develops broaderideas around how the global rule of law can better blend Islamic and nonIslamic articulations of ideals, and perspectives. My main interest inpresenting at this conference is to learn how established ideals of justice andlaw from Twelver Shi’a tradition link to the unique findings I have from myresearch on how justice and law is understood by legal practitioners in severalimportant Sunni societies.


Rule of law, Islam, justice, just polity, Muslim societies

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COI code: ICJE01_108

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