Book Review: Islamic Law in Action, Authority, Discretion and Everyday Experiences in Mamluk Egypt, by Kristen Stilt
10 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2012 Last revised: 8 Sep 2016
Date Written: December 5, 2012
Kristen Stilt has written a splendid work in Islamic Law in Action, one whose influence is certain to resonate in years to come. Increasing numbers of us in the American law academy are interested in applying some of the lessons of American legal realism to the study of Islamic law and in understanding, as Stilt would put it, how Islamic law works “in action.” Stilt brings a new perspective to this conversation, one of a practiced historian and a lawyer. Stilt offers in this work a careful and scholarly legal approach to the application of Islamic law in Egypt's Mamluk era that is largely unprecedented.
The work would have benefited from some of the lessons of American critical legal studies, and is insights respecting the types of structural inequalities that law often imposes. The tales of a muhtasib who beats a woman severely for leaving her home for a necessity, or the Christian employee stripped naked and made to walk the streets because of public resentment against the Christians hired by the sultan, are certainly examples of law "in action." However, they are also demonstrations of the manner in which law, and legal authority, is often imposed by the powerful to repress the vulnerable and the weak. More attention to this might have offered a more complete account of precisely how law was used in the Mamluk era, and whom it was used against.
Keywords: Mamluk, muhtasib, shari'a, Islam, Islamic law, critical legal studies
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