Huma N. Shah

Negotiating Islamic and Secular Judicial Interpretation in Pakistan

This paper explores the relationship between Islam and the state in Pakistan, by examining the Pakistani Federal Shariat Court in its production and use of Islamic law. The Court serves as an important institution to observe the negotiation between Islamic and Western legal norms. The essay first examines the historical foundations of Islamic legal theory in the development of the Pakistani constitution and judicial system, through probing the ideas of Pakistani legal theorists and Islamic scholars. The essay then traces the decision-making methodology of the Court, focusing on the Supreme Court Justices and Islamic scholars, or ulema, who sit side by side on the bench, and together debate and ultimately adjudicate legal cases. Through fieldwork and primary interviews in Pakistan with Justices, ulema, and lawyers, the essay attempts to identify the construction of “secular” and “Islamic” methods of interpretation and reasoning within the highest levels of the judiciary.  By understanding the role and task of the modern Muslim jurist, the paper ultimately argues for a revision of the dichotomy between “secular” and “Islamic” interpretation in order to more fully understand the modern Islamic Court.


Biographical Sketch

Huma Shah graduated in May from Harvard College with a degree in Social Studies. Her scholarly work has focused on Islam and the modern state. Her paper is an excerpt of her Senior Honors Thesis, produced through two summers of fieldwork in Pakistan as a Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Undergraduate Associate. On campus, she was a Director of the non-profit Circle of Women, which provides education to girls in the Middle East and South Asia. Huma has also interned at think tanks in Washington, DC, and has an interest in foreign policy. She is from New York.

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