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Professor connects justice, Islamic law states

| Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The relationship between Islamic law states and the nternational courts of justice is one that international relations scholars have attempted to understand in order to promote more peaceful conflict resolution, especially over the past decade.

Emilia Powell, assistant professor of Political Science, presented her research in a lecture titled  “Islamic law states and the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes,” which covered both the characteristics of Islamic law states and how they accept decisions from international courts of law.

“There are many ways in which I try to capture how much Islamic law is incorporated in the official legal system [of Islamic states],” Powell said.

Powell defined an Islamic law state as a “state whose official law system incorporates Islamic or Shari’a principles.”

Powell said factors included in categorizing a country as an Islamic law state include reference to Shari’a — the moral code and religious law of Islam, reference to Holy Oath — the method of faithfulness to Allah required of public officials, the presence of Shari’a in educational systems and how religious principles have shaped state law.

She said the character of the education system is particularly indicative of a given state being an Islamic law state.

“To me, if education in Islamic law states is based very strongly on Shari’a, it means that the country is more likely to be traditionally Islamic, because education in schools is the main venue through which legal traditions carry through,” she said.

Powell’s work centered on historical analysis of Islamic constitutions dating from 1945 to the present. The research included analysis of over seventy constitutions and several qualitative in-depth interviews with Islamic law scholars about the history and substance of law and the Islamic legal system. With this data, she identified over 25 countries where Islamic law or Shari’a is present, including Egypt, Malaysia, and Qatar among others.

Powell’s findings suggest Islamic law states that incorporated fewer principles from international courts and presented more traditional elements of Islamic law were less likely to agree with or accept decisions made by the International legal system.

“Islamic law states feel slightly uncomfortable with international law,” Powell said.

Powell’s lecture highlighted how International courts of justice tend to misjudge Islamic law states and how little mention they give Islamic law.

“International courts rarely mention Islamic law,” she said. “When they do, it is mentioned in a negative light.”

Powell said, though Islamic law states are apprehensive about international courts of law, they are open to agreements when their legal system is mentioned more positively.

“Islamic law states are different from each other. You cannot say that they all act in a certain way,” she said. “However, in international relations scholarship, what I often saw was ‘no, all Islamic law states act the same.’”

Powell said her research aimed at helping people notice variation in Islamic law states and contributing to strategies of conflict resolution.

“This research can help bring more peaceful conflict resolution in Islamic law states,” Powell said.

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