Washington International Law Journal


In many countries today, including the Southeast Asian nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, governments regulate some aspects of Muslim life according to Islamic law. The administration of Islamic law in these states is carried out by modern courts that are structured differently and staffed by different types of figures than were earlier institutions for the implementation of Islamic law. Prior to the modern era, courts tasked with the job of resolving cases according to Shari‛a were staffed by judges with a particular type of training, and litigants appearing before these judges were generally not represented by a specialized class of lawyers. In the modern era, Shari‛a courts have undergone radical changes in many countries. Modern Shari‛a court judges are trained to find Islamic rules of a decision in ways that differ significantly from that of classical jurists. To varying degrees, these judges are also taught to apply Shari‛a law in a manner similar to that of judges who apply non-religious law outside the Islamic court system. At the same time decisions are rendered in an environment in which litigants who appear before these judges are increasingly coming to be represented by lawyers who advise on questions of law and procedure, advocate for them and appeal cases. These differences in both training and professional practice affect the way in which the court engages with the Islamic tradition and thus affects the way that Islamic law is interpreted and applied. This article argues for new attention to be paid to the educational backgrounds and professional practice of the judges and lawyers who work in Shari‛a courts to further our understanding of the practice of Islamic law in contemporary societies.

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