Book Review: Sharia and the Making of the Modern Egyptian: Islamic Law and Custom in the Courts of Ottoman Cairo, by Reem A. Meshal

By Angela Hackstadt

sharia bookReem A. Meshal. Sharia and the Making of the Modern Egyptian: Islamic Law and Custom in the Courts of Ottoman Cairo. (The American University in Cairo Press, 2014). 290 p. Hardbound, $75.00.

Sharia and the Making of the Modern Egyptian: Islamic Law and Custom in the Courts of Ottoman Cairo examines the sijill (the complete records of a judge or court) as a historical text where Ottoman state law, local custom, and Islamic legal theory intersect. According to Meshal, legal scholars have neglected the study of these documents and “an unfortunate consequence of this neglect has been the inhibition of research into legal theory and legal praxis and their osmotic influence on one another in a given political setting.”

Before the Ottomans, the concept of “court” was embodied in the person of a judge and held in any number of venues. Under the Ottomans, courts became fixed locations and, for the first time, legal documents became mass-produced and centralized. Judges were required to turn over their sijills to a professional archivist, who linked the documents to the court and the public archive. The rise of bureaucrats like professional archivists, notaries, and court experts meant that the authority of the written document would come to outweigh that of oral testimony.

Civil documents pertaining to things like personal disputes, property disputes, and marriages were given the status of “authoritative legal proof.” This impacted the autonomy of the individual by virtue of the citizens’ access to these records. Documents housed in an archive provided a static record that could be accessed under certain conditions; however, a copy of a document that could be carried or distributed would grant rights to the holder in the public sphere. “More than the archive, therefore, it is the millions of individual documents contained within it that provide the textual footprints of an ‘early-modern individualism,’ or proto-citizenship.”

The author’s focus on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Cairo matters because of the heterogeneous nature of the city’s population during a time when the state sought to harmonize state law with sharia. Meshal’s book discusses custom, state law, and Islamic jurisprudence without falling back on the Western binary of religious-versus-secular. She admits Western influence on the Empire but concludes that important developments were established prior to this influence. The author builds her arguments from sijills and other primary sources, as well from a variety of secondary sources. Chapters are organized by topic, with topic subdivisions including a concise chapter conclusion. This is a well-researched book and I recommend it for academic law libraries, particularly those that serve Sharia or Ottoman scholars.

Film Review: Invoking Justice

c834By Susan Gualtier

In my spring 2014 FCIL research seminar, I explored the idea of using documentaries to provide a visual representation of unfamiliar legal systems. One of the films that I chose to screen was Deepa Dhanraj’s 2011 documentary, Invoking Justice. The film was very well received by the students and led to several interesting group discussions, both during class time and on the course website. Student feedback strongly suggested that they found the film enjoyable, that it helped them to understand how religious (and, to an extent, customary and mixed) legal systems work, and that it encouraged them to think about how one might research legal issues or handle cases arising under these systems.

Invoking Justice focuses on a specific type of legal tribunal in Southern India, where family disputes are settled by local tribunals called Jamaats. These tribunals, which apply Islamic Sharia law, are made up entirely of men. Not only are their cases decided by men, but women are not permitted to be present at the Jamaat meetings and therefore have no opportunity to defend themselves or to present their side of the dispute. Invoking Justice follows a group of women who, recognizing the discriminatory nature of the all-male Jamaats, formed a women’s Jamaat in 2004 where local women could settle their family disputes or report discriminatory treatment by the traditional male Jamaats. By the time the film was made, the women’s Jamaat had already settled more than 8000 cases, “ranging from divorce to wife beating to brutal murders and more.”

The film suggests, though not overtly, that the women’s Jamaat functions not only as a tribunal, but also as an enforcement mechanism and advocacy organization. Its members are shown approaching male Jamaat members to questions their tribunals’ decisions and processes, and using the police force to compel male defendants to attend women’s Jamaat sessions when they do not take the tribunal seriously. Dhanraj follows several of the Jamaat’s cases from beginning to end, which helps to unify the film and provides a narrative element. The film also portrays the power that comes with open communication; the women’s Jamaat has been a galvanizing force for women in the region, and groups of women are shown in animated discussions of topics that would previously have been considered taboo in a public forum.

Invoking Justice is entertaining and visually appealing, and provides an excellent insight into how one form of local tribunal might operate. It also illuminates substantive issues relating to family law and women’s human rights under religious and customary law systems, and addresses issues of discrimination not only in the law itself, but in the procedural practices of the tribunals, the application of the law, and the enforcement of the tribunals’ judgments. Because there is no prerequisite to my FCIL research seminar, I have found that, by necessity, it must serve as a crash course in international law and world legal systems in addition to developing the students’ research skills. Having searched for a film that would entertain the students while at the same time illustrating the issues surrounding religious law, customary law, and informal tribunals, I found that Invoking Justice was an excellent choice. Invoking Justice is distributed by Women Make Movies and can be purchased from their website. My study guide for the film is available online through SlideShare.

FCIL-SIS Schaffer Grant for Foreign Law Librarians

By Kristina Alayan

The FCIL Schaffer Grant for Foreign Law Librarians provides financial assistance to ensure the presence and participation of a foreign librarian at the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting. Foreign attendees enrich AALL events and programming by providing a global perspective that benefits all participants and the AALL membership more broadly.

This year’s AALL conference will return to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia is famous for its vibrant art scene, diversity, and rich history (see Gabriela Femenia’s 2011 article in AALL Spectrum for more details here). The AALL annual meeting is easily the biggest law library conference in the world, and offers unparalleled opportunities for learning from colleagues, networking, and the opportunity to attend programs considering a wide range of topics relevant to law libraries and law librarianship. Anyone who may be interested in applying for the Grant is encouraged to review the relevant application information available online here.  Please note that the deadline for applications of November 30, 2014 is quickly approaching.

Selection for the Grant is based on the foreign law librarian’s ability to add to the knowledge of law, legal information, and law librarianship from a foreign perspective for AALL attendees. Preference may be given to an applicant from an under-represented country or region, to someone who demonstrates financial need, or to an applicant who has never attended an AALL Annual Meeting.  In order to ensure diversity, the Grant Committee avoids selecting recipients from the same country as recipients of the previous three years.

Many other law library associations provide similar opportunities (see e.g., IALL, BIALL, CALL).  The purpose of these grants, particularly those that encourage foreign law librarians to attend, is not only to provide a valuable professional development experience for the recipient, but also to enrich the conference events for local attendees.  Opportunities to share perspectives and ideas across cultures, languages, and legal systems are especially valuable in an increasingly globalized world.  Though our backgrounds and resources are often varied, the challenges we face are frequently the same and necessarily benefit from exchange and dialogue.

In order to ensure the greatest number of potential applicants are aware of this opportunity, please circulate this information to any of your colleagues abroad who may be eligible for the grant.


LSU Law Professor Publishes First English Translation of Cornu’s Dictionary of the Civil Code

By Susan Gualtier

Professor Alain Levasseur of the Louisiana State University Law Center, along with Marie-Eugénie Laporte-Legeais and under the scientific coordination of Juriscope, has published the first English translation of Gérard Cornu’s seminal Vocabulaire juridique. The new book is the result of over two years’ worth of work by a multinational translation team and is published by LexisNexis:

The Dictionary of the Civil Code, an English translation of more than 1600 entries selected from the Vocabulaire Juridique of Gérard Cornu under the auspices of the Association Henri Capitant des amis de la culture juridique française, introduces to readers, jurists or not, the essential concepts of the French Civil Code. Key to an understanding of the civil law through its terminology as translated and explained in English, the definitions are enriched with references made to the Civil Code of Louisiana.

This work of reference on the French legal and civil law culture is an essential tool for comparatists, civilians, jurilinguists and translators.

The dictionary translates over 1600 entries selected from the French language Vocabulaire.  Each entry provides the French term, with a definition in English. Levasseur and his translation team have supplemented the original definitions with references to the Louisiana Civil Code. These added references are intended to illustrate the possibility of expressing civil law concepts in English without resorting to the terminology of the common law, as well as to be a useful resource for researchers of Louisiana civil law.  Aiming to capture the unique language and nuance of the civil law, Levasseur includes both recommended English equivalents for each term, as well as English terms to avoid.  The book also contains an index that allows the researcher use a known English language term to locate the appropriate French equivalent in the definitions section of the book.

Professor Levasseur spoke about the project in April at a symposium entitled The Louisiana Civil Code Translation Project: Enhancing Visibility and Promoting the Civil Law in English, held on the LSU Law Center campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Highlights from the symposium can be found in an earlier DipLawMatic Dialogues post.


International Association of Law Libraries Newsletter – November 2014

iall2014Welcome to the new IALL quarterly newsletter. Our aim is to keep in touch with you, and update you on IALL-related matters in between our Annual meetings.

We have shared this first Newsletter with colleagues on several related law library lists; if you received this email via INT-LAW or FCIL-SIS, please sign up to the IALL Listserv to receive future Newsletters

News from the Board

Our 33rd Annual Meeting, held early in October in Buenos Aires, was very informative, successful and enjoyable, and for those who had not visited South America before, it was a wonderful introduction to this part of the world. The papers will be published in ILJI; they covered a range of topics, with the highlight being the day dedicated to human rights issues in Argentina. Many wonderful photos taken by participants are available via this Dropbox link. All the conference tweets were collated into this Storify site.

The Board Meeting: The IALL Board has members from many countries, and the only time we can meet in person is one day before and one day after the Annual Meeting. As happens each year, we considered a range of issues, including:

  •     preferential rates for retired members
  •     the term of officers and Board members
  •     IALL election procedures
  •     how to best manage our funds so they benefit our members
  •     institutional membership matters
  •     managing our archives

Many proposals that arose, such as having a membership class for retired members, cannot be made without a change to the Constitution, so we have decided to establish a small Working Group to review the IALL Constitution. If you are a member of IALL and would like to participate in this review of our Constitution, please email President Jeroen Vervliet to express your interest.

The Board  is very proud of the work done by the Education Committee to develop The IALL Guidelines for Public International Law Research Instruction. This is part of our commitment to support the educational responsibilities undertaken by many of our colleagues in law libraries throughout the world. You may find them a valuable resource.

Planning is well under way for the 34th Annual Course – IALL 2015 which will be held in Berlin, Germany – September 20th to 24th, 2015. Mark the dates in your calendar!

Are you based in Washington? Then please join the Foreign & International SIS for a brown bag lunch on December 1st, 2014 from 12:00 – 1:00 at the Library of Congress Law Library Multimedia Room. They will be discussing the recent International Association of Law Libraries meeting on Libraries and the Rule of Law held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Attendees will share their experiences and snacks will be provided.  Please RSVP to Heather Casey at

Membership renewals will be due in the new year. IALL Membership expires December 31, 2014. The 2015 Membership Year begins on January 1, 2015. The great news is that the rates remain constant, and you can find the membership/renewal form online. We welcome new members, and if you are reading this newsletter via INT-LAW or the AALL Foreign & International SIS, and are not yet an IALL member, why not consider joining?

The International Journal of Legal Information

Latest issue: Vol. 42, Issue 1 (Spring 2014)

Accessing Legal Information in Catalonia: Open Access to Legislation and Case Law
Morante, Montse; Sanpera, Patricia
Catalan Law in the European Context
Aguilera-Vaques, Mar
Copyright Issues Related to the Implementation of Open Access Policies
Juan, Ignasi Labastida I.
Could Catalonia Become Independent
Reniu, Josep Ma
Effects of Divorce on Children, The
Lauroba, Elena
From Legal Compilations to Legal Codes: A Catalan Legal History Approach (18th-20th Centuries)
Oleart, Oriol
Human Right to Environment and Its Effective Protection in Catalonia, Spain and Europe
Penalver I Cabre, Alexandre
Law of Successions I: Intestacy under Catalan Law, The
Bosch, Jaume Tarabal
Outline of the Catalan Forced Share System, An
Anderson, Miriam
Same-Sex Couples in Spain and Catalonia
Navarro-Michel, Monica
Urban Planning and Legal Framework for Sustainable Communities: Affordable Housing, Social Cohesion and Ghettos
Ponce, Juli

More information on accessing or publishing in IJLI can be found here.

Latest posts from the Blog

Education Committee’s IALL Public International Law Research Instruction Guidelines (November 10, 2014)
General Overview of Turkish Maritime Law (November 4, 2014)
Session recaps from IALL 2014 in Buenos Aires (October 14, 2014)
¡Muchas gracias Buenos Aires! (October 6, 2014)
2013 Membership Statistics by Jurisdiction and Membership Level (September 15, 2014)
BarNet/JADE – Free Australian Caselaw (September 3, 2014)
Apps for commercial databases (August 19, 2014)

The IALL blog welcomes contributions from members or other colleagues. If you would like to submit a piece, please contact Bård Tuseth.

This post was originally shared via the IALL Listserv.  To receive future newsletters and other announcements, please sign up for the IALL Listserv using this link.

Introducing the IALL Public International Law Research Guidelines

By Bård Tusethiall2014

The IALL Education Committee came about from a shared desire to share ideas and thereby improve the teaching of Public International Law research to law students. The information literacy standards established by BIALL and AALL are comprehensive, but general in nature and do not provide specific guidance in structuring a lesson plan. Public International Law research is challenging for law students both because it has an unfamiliar structure and the sources are not available through the familiar legal information systems.

The workshop in Barcelona, online contributions and the workshop in Buenos Aires resulted in the IALL Guidelines for Public International Law Research Instruction. The guidelines are a collaborative effort and are very much a work in progress. The IALL Education Committee hopes they will be useful to many colleagues and help illuminate this challenging area for law students. The committee plans to periodically revise and update the guidelines and welcomes corrections and suggestions.

The latest edition of the guidelines can be downloaded here.

This post originally appeared on the International Association of Law Libraries blog.

Introducing…Teresa Miguel-Stearns as the November FCIL Librarian of the Month

Photo - Teresa Miguel-Stearns1.  Where did you grow up?

St. Louis, Missouri

2.  Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

After 10 years as a public defender, I decided I wanted to try something different. A friend turned me on to librarianship and I attended the University of Arizona. I was fortunate to be part of Knowledge River, which convinced me librarianship was a good fit for my skills and interests. I was also lucky to have Mike Chiorazzi as a professor. His classes and mentoring solidified my desire to enter law librarianship specifically.

3.  When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

During Mike’s Law Library Management class, he had Francisco Avalos guest-lecture in the class. Francisco discussed his role in building their Mexican collection and making it available to researchers. I was hooked! When I got to Yale, I immediately gravitated toward Dan Wade and our F/I collection. Before long I took over collection development responsibilities for Iberia and Latin America and then became a specialist in F/I reference. I developed an F/I legal research class, and a class focusing on Latin America, and I connected with our F/I faculty. Although I now do more administrative work, I’ve been able to hang on to the collection development piece, and still do a small amount of reference pertaining to Latin America and Iberia.

4.  Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there?

Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.  Since August 2005 (9+ years).

5.  Do you speak any foreign languages?

I am fluent in Spanish. I can speak a tiny bit of Italian and German, both of which I studied for a period of time. I’m most proud of the 10 words of Turkish I picked up at IALL in 2009.

6.  What is your most significant professional achievement?

Certainly earning the trust of my colleagues as I progressed to become the Deputy Director here at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. I have received tremendous support from colleagues such as Dan Wade, Fred Shapiro, Femi Cadmus, John Nann, Scott Matheson, and of course Blair Kauffman, our Director. Also, being elected to chair the FCIL-SIS is very special to me.

 7.  What is your biggest food weakness?

Just one? Pizza, chocolate, and my husband’s shrimp-n-grits. Roll Tide!

 8.  What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

Dancing Queen, Abba. For sure. My older sister and I used to argue about who was THE dancing queen.

 9.  What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

Fluency in German and about a dozen other languages.

10.  Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you could not go a day without?

My morning tea.

11.  Anything else you would like to share with us?

I feel incredibly fortunate to have landed a second career in law librarianship for many reasons, including the opportunity to work with brilliant, diverse, and energetic people in the FCIL-SIS. My FCIL colleagues have for years been an integral part of my day-to-day work and life; for this I am extremely grateful.