The Modern and the Traditional; Islam, Islamic Law and Capitulations in Late Qajar Iran

32 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017

Date Written: September 1, 2017


This article seeks to understand how the dynamic of difference described by Antony Anghie was brought to bear on the lands of the Islamic world, during the waning years of the Qajar Empire. The methodology I propose will seek to unearth the historical experience of those subjected to imperial power, including examining the effects of the doctrines and rules of international law from their perspective. How can we understand the history of international law from the perspective of its victims? My interest lies in the expression of international law against non-European polities largely influenced by (but not reducible to) Islam, and how those societies reacted against the onslaught of European colonial ventures. More specifically, I will hypothetically propose that international law was, for the European powers, a technology of Empire reinforcing the Modern/Colonial divide, especially in the dialectic relationship of secularism and Islam, the modern and the traditional. I will study this dynamic in the context of later years of the Qajar dynasty in Persia, in its relationship with the imperial powers of Great Britain and Russia.

My hypothesis will be that the underlying rationale of the encounter between the modern and its Islamic other, and thus an epistemic predisposition of international law, is that secularism is a driving force of modernity, of social progress, and that the perceived Islamicate world must be made to submit to it in order for it to be accepted as an equal sovereign. Societies that lack secularism are contrasted with its presence in the West, creating an absolute enmity, an irreconcilable ontological confrontation. This, I claim, refers to Eurocentrism’s existential/ontological fear as to radical alterity of religious normative networks in the face of modern secularism. Modernity’s abyssal thinking equates a religious nomos to the backwardness of a society, and in modern international law, the religious becomes ill-legal.

Suggested Citation

Cardinal, Pierre-Alexandre, The Modern and the Traditional; Islam, Islamic Law and Capitulations in Late Qajar Iran (September 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Pierre-Alexandre Cardinal (Contact Author)

McGill University, Faculty of Law ( email )

Montréal, Quebec

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