Introduction

Hadi Enayat is a political sociologist whose main interests are in the areas of religion and international relations, the sociology of law and secularism studies. He has written Law, State and Society in Modern Iran: Constitutionalism, Autocracy and Legal Reform, 1906-1941 (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) and Islam and Secularism in Post-Colonial Thought: A Cartography of Recent Genealogies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). He currently teaches at several universities in London and specializes in the political sociology of the Middle East, socio-legal studies, comparative politics and race, ethnicity and multiculturalism.

Interview with Hadi Enayt | London July 07, 2015

And those two politics had a relatively institutionalized and kind of centralized legal system.  Qajar Iran not so. Okay. First of all we are talking about, you know, the Qajar Empire itself was a confederation of power which was very, very weak and fragmented.  There was no standing army and there was a very rudimentary bureaucracy. And, this weakness and fragmentation was reflected in its legal system.

The legal system is complicated and messy.  There were multiple jurisdictions. But, broadly speaking there were two sets of courts and jurisdictions.  One was called Shar and one was called Urf. Shar meant religious courts and Urf meant customary courts. Okay.  Shar courts took care of, you know, what we call today civil law.

There were broadly two jurisdictions or two, you know, sets of courts in 19th century Iran.  The first were called Shar courts, Shar means Sharia, okay.  And they were generally run by the clergy of course and they took care of what we today call civil law, mainly. Okay. Marriage, divorce, wills, inheritance, sometimes property disputes, sometimes some commercial disputes and also some aspects of criminal law, mainly murder.  Okay, which should be done according to the Sharia principle of Qisas which is retaliation. The second jurisdiction and most legal disputes were actually administered in this jurisdiction were called Urf courts. Urf means custom in Arabic. And in practice these courts took care of most aspects of criminal law and what we today call administrative law.  

Now, both of these jurisdictions were largely outside of the control of the Qajar authorities except for in Tehran.  Okay, there were some centralization there. But, both of them were largely outside of the control of the Qajar authorities and they were very, very irregular.  You know, inside the Sharia courts there was some measure of legality and procedural regularity, okay. Although they were also quite unpredictable, as we said. But, especially in the Urf courts.  The Urf courts, you know, Urf law was not codified at all. In fact, law was not codified at all in the 19th century. Sharia courts was written down into multiple books of fact which were kind of sometimes internally inconsistent and sometimes conflicting with each other.  But, the Urf law was not codified at all. So, the Urf courts were very unpredictable. And extremely arbitrary.

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