The Traveling Waqf: Property, Religion, and Mobility Beyond China
Matthew S. Erie (University of Oxford)

In 1991, a Chinese Muslim (Hui) hajji, living in Linxia, a city Hui call “China’s Little Mecca,” based in northwestern China, received a package from a relative living in Jeddah. The package contained a trove of historical legal documents including a deed written by the warlord Ma Lin and a waqfiyya, or document establishing a waqf (pious endowment, pl. awqāf), dated to 1946. The waqfiyya, which was smuggled out of China in 1949 by female relatives of Ma Lin, is perhaps the last extant waqf document written by and for Hui. Whereas in the late imperial period, Hui regularly founded awqāf, the Communists confiscated all religious lands, prohibiting such endowments. The waqfiyya is legally void; nonetheless, its return represents some of the contradictions of China’s post-1980s Islamic renaissance: law without jurisdiction, property without place, and family without home. This paper argues that whereas shariʿa suffered “structural death” in China, it has its own “afterlife” as illustrated in such legal forms that travel across time assuming new meanings through pilgrimage, memory, and transnationalism.

Receipts and Other Forms of Islamic charity: Accounting for Piety in Modern North India
Christopher Taylor (Boston University)

Islamic almsgiving is on the rise among Muslims in India, as charitable donations by individuals come to supplant landed endowments as the lifeblood of many Islamic associations.  Techniques of mass fundraising in India by Islamic revivalist movements such as Deoband facilitated their expansion across the subcontinent.  Such fundraising depended on documentary practices such as verification letters, lists of donors, and receipts for donations. This article illustrates how charity receipts and other documents that change hands in ritual Islamic almsgiving are also a key part of new Indian Muslim collective identities.  Moral ties as well as money circulate in this Islamic charity economy. Financial documents are Islamic philanthropy’s answer to “print capitalism,” serving as material rituals of symbolic community across vast distances.  Moreover, the use of documents in traditional Islamic almsgiving is also inflecting pious Muslims’ spiritualities. Islamic charity receipts in particular are contributing to the individualization of religiosity among Lucknow Muslims.  New modes of accounting (originally intended to ensure financial compliance) also allow Muslim almsgivers to “account” for accrued piety in a perceived spiritual merit economy.

Law and Economic Life in the Indian Ocean: A Reflection

Fahad Ahmad Bishara (College of William and Mary)

Rather than share a standalone article or chapter, I plan on sharing a short part of a larger whole – the conclusion/epilogue to my book manuscript, entitled A Sea of Debt: Law and Economic Life in the Western Indian Ocean, c. 1750-1940. In the book, I move between South Arabia and East Africa (and occasionally to India) to tell the story of the transformation of Islamic law and Muslim legal practice in an age of emerging modern capitalism; throughout, I weave the narrative around the material artifact of the debt acknowledgment deed, the waraqa – an object around which the entire range of different discourses and practices, Muslim and otherwise, coalesced. By following the waraqa around the Indian Ocean and into and out of a number of other genres of commercial and legal writing, I keep the narrative’s broad geographic contours tightly focused while also highlighting the range of actors, artifacts, and discourses that shaped a changing Indian Ocean credit economy.

The book ends with a short epilogue, in which I reflect on a conversation I had with a member of a Gujarati merchant’s family about the waraqas their family kept in their possession. I use the conversation as a platform for thinking about law’s place in Indian Ocean history and in economic history more generally, and pose thoughts on how to integrate law into a historiography that has from its outset been characterized by trade and empire. At the same time, I explore my thoughts on the different legal genres of the Indian Ocean world – the forms of writing through which commercial and political actors made claims to different domains of law or legality.

The Sovereign and the Sage: Sharia, Scholars, and Islamic Government in Central Asia (1747 – 1917)

James Pickett (Yale University)

This paper examines the relationship between state and non-state actors in early modern and colonial Central Asia. Even as Islamic scholars deployed their eclectic skills (including mastery of Islamic law) in service of the Turkic military elite, they imagined their moral universe to be separate and superior. This remarkable disconnect between ideology and practice meant that Islamic scholars often undermined the very power on which they relied, even as they served as its foundation. In analyzing this paradoxical alliance, at once symbiotic and antagonistic, the paper challenges the predominant depictions in secondary literature of the ulama as either lackeys of the state or otherworldly dissidents: they were both, neither, and much more.

Personal, not private: Qazi registers in the context of colonial law, c. 1880–1940

Elizabeth Lhost (University of Chicago)

In debates surrounding the proposed Kazis’ Act of 1880, arguments over the necessity of the qazi’s office for recording Muslim marriages became central to the act’s eventual passage.  However, following the introduction of the Act, there is little evidence that the consultation of these registers actually fulfilled this vital and necessary role of providing information about Muslim populations to colonial administrators.  In fact, in court cases where the question of the qazi’s register surfaced, judges frequently rejected the evidence as unreliable or falsified.  Yet, despite the marginal regard for the qazi’s work, those appointed to the office under this legislation maintained registers that were detailed, regularized, and precise. Looking to some of these materials in the context of colonial debates on the place of Islamic law and Islamic legal practice in modern India, I consider the ways in which the need for public records and the interest in preserving personal law converged and diverged in the late-colonial period and the extent to which certain forms of documentation circulated within and across different arenas of legal activity.



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