By Pulsars as physics Laboratories, Ed.
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During my first few weeks in court, visitors were very surprised to see me sitting there with my laptop, and Shaykh Hamid always made a special point of introducing me as an American student of Islamic law, and kindly asked that everyone cooperate with me in my research. Eventually, word must have spread that an mzungu (a person of European descent) was working in the court, because even newcomers did not express much surprise at my presence. 2 Zanzibari kadhis are appointed to the primary courts by the state through the Chief Kadhi, who (in theory) selects them based on their reputation as religious scholars.
Brinkley Messick, an anthropologist who studies legal writing in Islamic contexts, takes a dialogic view of legal texts, and proposes the utility of a “textual ethnography” of court documents, which is one of the aims of this work. Building on the work of Bakhtin (1991), Messick argues that judges both create social acts and exercise power by highlighting particular issues. The processes of creating such texts are thus instances of “the production of power and the expression of authority” (1995).
I aim to describe in detail the process of creating written texts from oral testimony, argument, and established procedure. Court documents may have many authors or contributors, each of whom may emphasize different legal issues at particular moments in the process and who build on previous entextualizations of the dispute. In a similar context, Susan Hirsch has shown that the Swahili litigants in Mombasa’s kadhi’s courts “turn their stories into texts in gender-patterned ways” in an attempt to inf luence the way in which court personnel will interpret their narratives, and gives numerous examples of how women and men entextualize disputes in court (1998: 30).