The carceral nature of America’s criminal system has become a subject of fierce debate over the past few years as the extent of incarceration has gained notoriety. As a result, the decades-old argument for the abolition of prison has received its greatest reception to date, becoming the subject of popular conversation and a plethora of scholarly articles. Much of this discussion has centered on diagnosing the causes of mass incarceration. Empirical and historical studies have offered a strong case for the pervasive role of racial animus and discrimination in expanding the carceral state, which in turn has produced an abolitionist response as remedy to a broken system. At the same time, contexts far removed from America’s racial paradigm have also produced fierce critiques of incarceration. The introduction of prisons by European colonial powers met with native resistance across the Global South and, in the period since, a range of scholarly writing has continued to challenge prisons. Among the Global South’s most prominent examples of this abolitionist response has been those from scholars of Islamic law. These jurists have offered critiques that argue for both a doctrinal incongruence between incarceration and the Islamic legal tradition, as well as a moral chastisement of the carceral state. This Essay seeks to explore one such critique that represents a strand of abolitionist thinking in the Islamic legal tradition. While the American discourse has been preoccupied with abolition as a remedy for mass incarceration, the Islamic discourse is largely devoid of this concern; it critiques the institution of prison itself. The Essay’s overarching aim is to show how perspectives from the Global South, in this case Islamic law, might inform new approaches to abolition in other contexts. To accomplish this, the piece uses the thought of Muslim jurist and intellectual, Jāvēd Aḥmad Ghāmidī, examining both his ideas on imprisonment and broader approach to questions of law and morality. It then brings this discourse into conversation with key ideas in the work of American scholar–activist Angela Yvonne Davis. The animating inquiry will center on the moral arguments made in support of prison abolition and how Ghāmidī’s ideas, and by extension Islamic law, offer a unique perspective on this timely matter.
The Journal of Islamic Law is a peer-reviewed online Journal—published together with a regular Forum—that features new scholarship in Islamic legal studies. Focusing on historical, comparative, and law and society approaches to Islamic law, we also have a keen interest in featuring data science tools and primary sources that inform the scholarly analysis. The SHARIAsource Portal houses both the tools and the sources, and it provides an opportunity for scholars to curate an online companion to their scholarly contributions to the Journal or the Forum. The Journal welcomes long-form articles, essays, book reviews, and notes on cases and other new developments in the field. The more dynamic and slightly less formal Forum provides space for timely scholarly engagement and debate: invited roundtables on thematic issues of the day, essays on underexplored manuscripts or recent articles, and presentations of data science tools developed for or applied to the field. The Journal is on an annual schedule, and its related Forum will feature new content throughout the year. Our editorial board and peer reviewers select scholarship on the basis of excellence and novel contributions to the field. For submission details, see the submission guidelines.
The wave of struggle againstthe slave trade which began in eighteenth century Europe reached the Middle East and countries in Persian Gulf in the nineteenth century. In its efforts to end slave trade, Britain concluded treaties with Ottomans, sheikhs in Oman, and the king of Masqat. This concentrated the trade of enslaved Black people from Africa in Iran. The study of this period in Iran is important because Muḥammad Shāh, the then ruler in Iran, believed that since any order that bans the slave trade is against Islam, concluding any accord in this regard was beyond his control and was related to sharī ͑a. This Essay discusses and compares the opinions of Shīʿī scholars in the Qājar era, when the question of the abolition of slavery was first posed via British diplomatic channels, and subsequently during the Constitutional Revolution 1905 (Enghelāb-e Mashrūteh), to see if the introduction of Human Rights concepts at the time had any effect on fatwas about slave trade. This is done by the study of historical documents, including royal correspondence, exchange of letters among Shīʿī scholars, and scholarly fatwas. This Essay argues that jurisprudential opinions continued to regard slavery as permissible within the sharīʿa despite political and diplomatic pressures to abolish it and despite the importance of the principles of freedom and equality in the Constitutional era.
Islamic ideas about justice and equality directly informed the development of prison law jurisprudence in the United States. Since the early 1960s, when federal courts began to hear claims by state prisoner-petitioners, Muslims began to look to courts to establish Islam in prison and inaugurated an ongoing campaign for civil rights. The trend is significant when considering Muslims represent a relatively small percentage of the American population. Decades of persistent litigation by Muslims in courts have been integral to developing the prisoners’ rights movement in America. The Muslim impact on prison law and culture is an underappreciated phenomenon that involves African-American Muslims, the criminal justice system, and a spiritual quest for justice and equality. This Essay explores how Islamic ideals contributed to the litigation and how mundane lawsuits were transformed into an expression of genuine religiosity which, in turn, helped create new rules and policies that expanded the law’s presence in prison. By appropriating courts in this way, Muslims emerged as staunch upholders of the rule of law. These lawsuits also unveiled a role-reversal between the guards and the guarded, since the prison staff and administration, entrusted to act lawfully, must be held accountable for violating institutional rules and even criminal law. Far from being antagonistic to American law, Muslims have not stopped attempting to ensure the rule of law prevails in prison.