Institutionalizing sectarianism: The Lebanese Ja'fari court and Shi'i society under the French mandate

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The French Mandate authorities in Greater Lebanon formally recognized the Ja'fari madhhab in January 1926. As a result, state-led shari'a courts in Beirut, South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, the Lebanese Ja'fari court, were authorized to adjudicate matters of personal status-marriage, divorce, nafaqa, inheritance and property. As the first Lebanese Shi'i institution to enjoy communal autonomy granted by the state, the records from the Ja'fari courts provide insight into the everyday life-worlds of ordinary Shi'i Muslims in Lebanon during a period of gradual social change. Through a close reading of some unique cases-dealing with inheritance, maslaha and zinā-this article invites a consideration of how both the bureaucratization and practice of Shi'i law in these courts were central to the institutionalization of a new kind of Shi'i sectarianism in Mandate-era Lebanon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-407
Number of pages37
JournalIslamic Law and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


  • French Mandate
  • Ja'fari court
  • Lebanon
  • Personal status law
  • Shi'ism


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