Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts

Publication Year



Edited by Intisar Rabb, Ph.D. 2009.

"The papers in this volume largely arise out of proceedings from a conference organized in honor of Professor Roy Mottahedeh upon the occasion of his retirement."

This book presents an in-depth exploration of the administration of justice during Islam’s founding period, 632–1250 CE. Inspired by the scholarship of Roy Parviz Mottahedeh and composed in his honor, this volume brings together ten leading scholars of Islamic law to examine the history of early Islamic courts. This approach draws attention to both how and why the courts and the people associated with them functioned in early Islamic societies: When a dispute occurred, what happened in the courts? How did judges conceive of justice and their role in it? When and how did they give attention to politics and procedure?

Each author draws on diverse sources that illuminate a broader and deeper vision of law and society than traditional legal literature alone can provide, including historical chronicles, biographical dictionaries, legal canons, exegetical works, and mirrors for princes. Altogether, the volume offers both a substantive intervention on early Islamic courts and on methods for studying legal history as social history. It illuminates the varied and dynamic legal landscapes stretching across early Islam, and maps new approaches to interdisciplinary legal history.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • I. Judicial Procedure and Practice during the Founding Period of Islamic Law
    1. Section Introduction [William Graham, Harvard University]
    2. 1. The Logic of Excluding Testimony in Early Islam [Ahmed El Shamsy, University of Chicago]
    3. 2. Circumstantial Evidence in the Administration of Islamic Justice [Hossein Modarressi, Princeton University]
    4. 3. The Curious Case of Bughaybigha, 661–883: Land and Leadership in Early Islamic Societies [Intisar A. Rabb, Harvard Law School]
    5. 4. A Critique of Adjudication: Formative Moments in Early Islamic Legal History [Nahed Samour, University of Helsinki]
  • II. Concepts of Justice in the ʿAbbāsid East
    1. Section Introduction [Abigail Krasner Balbale, Bard Graduate Center & Intisar A. Rabb, Harvard Law School]
    2. 5. Words of ʿAjam in the World of Arab: Translation and Translator in the Early Islamic Judicial Procedures [Mahmood Kooria, Leiden University]
    3. 6. The Judge and the judge: The Heavenly and Earthly Court of Justice in Early Islam [Christian Lange, Utrecht University]
    4. 7. Justice, Judges, and Law in Three Arabic Mirrors for Princes, 8th–11th Centuries [Louise Marlow, Wellesley College]
  • III. Judges and Judicial Practice in the Islamic West
    1. Section Introduction [Michael Cook, Princeton University]
    2. 8. Joking Judges: A View from the Medieval Islamic West [Maribel Fierro, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)]
    3. 9. Judicial Procedure and Legal Practice on Liʿān (Imprectory Oath) in al-Andalus: The Evidence from Model Shurūṭ Collections, 11th–12th Centuries CE [Delfina Serrano, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)]
  • IV. Reading with Roy: The Scholarly Output of Professor Roy Mottahedeh
    1. Section Introduction [Cemal Kafadar, Harvard University]
    2. List of Publications
    3. Tabula Gratulatoria
  • Contributors
  • Bibliography
  • Index


    “This book makes a valuable contribution to the literature. It will be widely used and appreciated by scholars and graduate students with an interest in the historical practice and development of Islamic law.”—Marion Katz, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University

    “This book will be welcomed as a significant contribution toward a better understanding of the development of Islamic law in practice. Students of Islamic law have generally relied on the theoretical and ideal formulations of judicial procedure in manuals and chapters in textbooks that Muslim jurists wrote on dispensing justice. By contrast, this book offers path-breaking studies on Islamic legal practice by exploring biographical literature, local histories, and more, and by critically analyzing judicial contexts. These studies enlighten the reader about close interactions between jurists and judges on the one hand, and between judicial and political authorities, who kept revisiting concepts of the rule of law and of justice as they led the early Muslim societies, on the other.”—Judge M. Khalid Masud, Ad Hoc Member, Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan


Series Title
Harvard Series in Islamic Law
Series Volume
Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard Law School; Distributed by the Harvard University Press
Cambridge, MA
ISSN Number
• 9780674984219