Book Review: Ron Shaham, The Expert Witness in Islamic Courts: Medicine and Crafts in the Service of Law (the University of Chicago Press, 2010)
Posted: 11 Aug 2013
Date Written: April 6, 2011
Professor Shaham’s book, “The Expert Witness in Islamic Courts: Medicine and Crafts in the Service of Law” is the first comprehensive study of expert witnessing in Islamic law written in English. In this short book, Shaham explains the role of the expert witness and scientific evidence in both premodern Islamic courts and modern Egyptian courts. The book is divided into two parts. In part one, Shaham focuses on the premodern Ottoman courts and describes the traditional role of the eye-witness, the different sorts of expert witnesses that were recognized in premodern courts, and the role of women as special expert witnesses. In part two, he explores the use of scientific and expert witnesses in modern Egyptian courts with special emphasis on the of DNA evidence. Although much of the work is descriptive rather than comparative, it will create a basis for further study that will be of use to scholars in several disciples. Despite the difficulties inherent in working with Islamic law, in this work Professor Shaham pulls together a general framework employed by Islamic courts in dealing with expert witnesses in the pre-modern period. He argues that the courts did have a regularized application of these rules. He also makes a compelling argument that Islamic legal systems are not so different from civil law and common law systems as to frustrate attempts at useful comparison. He demonstrates that all legal systems grapple with similar concerns and goals regarding the need to bring specialized knowledge before courts while, at the same time, placing limits on the influence of expert testimony. By using both historical and modern court records to determine the roles that expert witnesses actually played in cases and analyzing the phenomena with sensitivity to both gender issues and cultural norms, Shaham places his study in the realm of law as cultural phenomenon and social practice.
Keywords: Islamic Law, evidence, expert witnesses, scientific testimony, law and society, legal history, Ottoman Empire, Shari'ah, Sharia, Shariah, qadi, witnesses, women, culture, Middle East, scientific evidence
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