News & Current Affairs

September 24, 2008

Is English law related to Muslim law?

Is English law related to Muslim law?

Old Bailey

One of the mainstays of English justice

 

In London’s historic “Inns of Court”, barristers practise law in the shadow of the distinctive medieval Temple Church. But does English law really owe a debt to Muslim law?

For some scholars, a historical connection to Islam is a “missing link” that explains why English common law is so different from classical Roman legal systems that hold sway across much of the rest of Europe.

It’s a controversial idea. Common law has inspired legal systems across the world. What’s more, calls for the UK to accommodate Islamic Sharia law have caused public outcry.

The first port of call when looking for an eastern link in the common law is London’s Inns of Court.

 

“You are now leaving London, and entering Jerusalem,” says Robin Griffith-Jones, the Master of the Temple Church, as he walks around its spectacular rotunda.

The church stands in the heart of the legal district and was built by the Knights Templar, the fierce order of monks-turned-warriors who fought Muslim armies in the Crusades.

London’s historic legal district, with its professional class of independent lawyers, has parallels with the way medieval Islamic law was organised.

In Sunni Islam there were four great schools of legal theory, which were often housed in “madrassas” around mosques. Scholars debated each other on obscure points of law, in much the same way as English barristers do.

There is a theory that the Templars modelled the Inns of Court on Muslim ideas. But Mr Griffith-Jones suggests it is pretty unlikely the Templars imported the madrassa system to England. They were suppressed after 1314 – yet lawyers only started congregating in the Inns of Court after the 1360s.

Perpetual endowment

This doesn’t necessarily rule out the Templars’ role altogether. Medieval Muslim centres of learning were governed under a special legal device called the “waqf” under which trustees guaranteed their independence.

In an oak-panelled room in Oxford, historian Dr Paul Brand explains the significance of the 1264 statute that Walter De Merton used to establish Merton College. He was a businessman with connections to the Knights Templar.

Graves in Temple Church

The Templar link to Islamic law seems unlikely

The original 1264 document that established Merton has parallels with the waqf because it is a “perpetual endowment” – a system where trustees keep the college running through the ages. It’s been used as a template across the Western world.

Dr Brand says many branches of Western learning, from mathematics to philosophy, owe a debt of gratitude to Islamic influence.

Advanced Arabic texts were translated into European languages in the Middle Ages. But there’s no record of Islamic legal texts being among those influencing English lawyers.

And Dr Brand pointed out the Knights Templar were, after all, crusaders. They wanted to fight Muslims, not to learn from them, and they were rarely close enough to observe their institutions at work.

But the fact remains that England in the Middle Ages had very distinct legal principles, like jury trial and the notion that “possession is nine tenths of the law”. And there was one other place in Europe that had similar legal principles on the books in the 12th Century.

Jury trial

From the end of the 9th to the middle of the 11th Century, Sicily had Muslim rulers. Many Sicilians were Muslims and followed the Maliki school of legal thought in Sunni Islam.

Maliki law has certain provisions which resemble English legal principles, such as jury trial and land possession. Sicily represented a gateway into western Europe for Islamic ideas but it’s unclear how these ideas are meant to have travelled to England.

Norman barons first invaded Sicily in 1061 – five years before William the Conqueror invaded England. The Norman leaders in Sicily went on to develop close cultural affinities with the Arabs, and these Normans were blood relations of Henry II, the English king credited with founding the common law.

But does that mean medieval England somehow adopted Muslim legal ideas?

Merton College

Merton College was founded on principles similar to Islamic law

There is no definitive proof, because very few documents survive from the period. All we have is the stories of people like Thomas Brown – an Englishman who was part of the Sicilian government, where he was known in Arabic as “Qaid Brun”.

He later returned to England and worked for the king during the period when common law came into being.

There is proof he brought Islamic knowledge back to England, especially in mathematics. But no particular proof he brought legal concepts.

There are clear parallels between Islamic legal history and English law, but unless new historical evidence comes to light, the link remains unproven.

 


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September 19, 2008

Pope defends WWII pontiff’s role

Pope defends WWII pontiff’s role

Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958

Benedict said Pius showed “courageous and paternal dedication”

Pope Benedict XVI has defended the actions of predecessor Pius XII during World War II, saying the pontiff spared no effort to try to save Jews.

Pius XII has long been accused by Jewish groups and scholars of turning a blind eye to the fate of the Jews.

Pope Benedict said that Pius had intervened directly and indirectly but often had to be “secret and silent” given the circumstances.

Pope Benedict said he wanted prejudice against Pius to be overcome.

Analysts say this was one of the strongest Vatican defenses yet of Pius’s role.

Beatification

Pope Benedict was speaking at a meeting with the US-based interfaith group, the Pave the Way Foundation, at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

He said Pius showed “courageous and paternal dedication” in trying to save Jews.

Pope Benedict said: “Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict said the interventions were “made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews”.

Pius was the pontiff from 1939 to 1958 and the Vatican has begun his beatification process.

Many Jewish groups criticized him for not speaking out against the Nazis, who killed six million Jews.

Material at the Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, talks of Pius’s “neutral” position.

August 8, 2008

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Nigerian advises against 86 wives

Baba Mohammed Bello Abubakar

Mr Bello Abubakar says he does not go and find women, they come to him

Nigerian Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, has advised other men not to follow his example and marry 86 women.

The former teacher and Muslim preacher, who lives in Niger State with his wives and at least 170 children, says he is able to cope only with the help of God.

“A man with 10 wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them,” he told the BBC.

He says his wives have sought him out because of his reputation as a healer.

“I don’t go looking for them, they come to me. I will consider the fact that God has asked me to do it and I will just marry them.”

But such claims have alienated the Islamic authorities in Nigeria, who have branded his family a cult.

Ganiat Bello Abubakar
When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them
Wife Ganiat Bello Abubakar

Most Muslim scholars agree that a man is allowed to have four wives, as long as he can treat them equally.

But Mr Bello Abubakar says there is no punishment stated in the Koran for having more than four wives.

“To my understanding the Koran does not place a limit and it is up to what your own power, your own endowment and ability allows,” he says.

“God did not say what the punishment should be for a man who has more than four wives, but he was specific about the punishment for fornication and adultery.”

‘Order from God’

As Mr Bello Abubakar emerged from his compound to speak to the BBC, his wives and children broke out into a praise song.

Mohammed Bello Abubakar of Bida and some of his wives

Some of Mr Bello Abubakar’s wives are younger than some of his children

Most of his wives are less than a quarter of his age – and many are younger than some of his own children.

The wives the BBC spoke to say they met Mr Bello Abubakar when they went to him to seek help for various illnesses, which they say he cured.

“As soon as I met him the headache was gone,” says Sharifat Bello Abubakar, who was 25 at the time and Mr Bello Abubakar 74.

“God told me it was time to be his wife. Praise be to God I am his wife now.”

Ganiat Mohammed Bello has been married to the man everyone calls “Baba” for 20 years.

When she was in secondary school her mother took her for a consultation with Mr Bello Abubakar and he proposed afterwards.

“I said I couldn’t marry an older man, but he said it was directly an order from God,” she says.

She married another man but they divorced and she returned to Mr Bello Abubakar.

“I am now the happiest woman on earth. When you marry a man with 86 wives you know he knows how to look after them,” she said.

No work

Mr Bello Abubakar and his wives do not work and he has no visible means of supporting such a large family.

Inside "Baba's" house

Many of the wives live three to a room, some have seven children

He refuses to say how he makes enough money to pay for the huge cost of feeding and clothing so many people.

Every mealtime they cook three 12kg bags of rice which all adds up to $915 (£457) every day.

“It’s all from God,” he says.

Other residents of Bida, the village where he lives in the northern Nigerian state, say they do not know how he supports the family.

According to one of his wives, Mr Bello Abubakar sometimes asks his children to go and beg for 200 naira ($1.69, £0.87), which if they all did so would bring in about $290 (£149).

Most of his wives live in a squalid, unfinished house in Bida; others live in his house in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

He refuses to allow any of his family or other devotees to take medicine and says he does not believe that malaria exists.

Hafsat Bello Abubakar
They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come
Wife Hafsat Bello Abubakar

“As you sit here if you have any illness I can see it and just remove it,” he says.

But not everyone can be cured and one of his wives, Hafsat Bello Mohammed, says two of her children have died.

“They were sick and we told God and God said their time has come.”

She says that most of the wives see Mr Bello Abubakar as next in line from the Prophet Muhammad.

Indeed, he claims the Prophet Muhammad speaks to him personally and gives detailed descriptions of his experiences.

It is a serious claim for a Muslim to make.

“This is heresy, he is a heretic,” says Ustaz Abubakar Siddique, an imam of Abuja’s Central Mosque.

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