Madhahib: A Case Study of Gulf Legal Systems

By Marcus Robinson
Submitted to Session S5055 (Undergraduate Research Poster Session, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arabian Peninsula;
Gulf Studies;
The focus of this project regards the significance of Sunni madhahib in the contemporary Arab Gulf. Specifically, the project will analyze the history and beliefs of the Maliki and Hanbali madhahib. The project will utilize case studies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to conclude whether two different factors have influenced these countries’ legal codes and sharia courts. The first factor being British involvement in Gulf legal systems and the second being the role the Wahhabi movement has played in their development.

The arguments made in the paper are two-fold. The initial argument of this paper regards the introduction of western law via the British on the legal systems of the Gulf, with a focus on Bahrain and Kuwait. It argues that British involvement has served to diminish the jurisdiction and influence of these countries sharia courts by introducing secular courts and propagating codification of law.

The second argument this paper makes regards the prominence of sharia courts in countries where a fundamentalist movement is supported by the rulers. This is done via case studies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who both adhere to the Wahhabi-Hanbali movement. The paper argues that the presence of the Wahhabi movement in Qatar and Saudi Arabia has allowed enhanced jurisdiction to their respective sharia court systems.

The paper initially provides an overview of jurisprudence and then moves on to detail the four orthodox Sunni madhahib and where they are contemporarily prominent. Following this, an overview is given of British involvement in the region and how the European power came to obtain jurisdiction over certain groups of citizens in its protectorates. The project then examines case studies of Bahrain and Kuwait to ascertain the role British intervention has played in the development of their legal/judicial systems. It then provides a brief overview of Wahhabism, and how the movement came to be involved in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Followed by case studies of the two countries legal/judicial development. It ends with a conclusion comparing and contrasting Bahrain and Kuwait as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

This project is a continuation of a research paper I was assigned during my Middle East Studies course, Sunni and Shia Islam. The project will use scholarly databases as well as secondary sources to analyze what role sharia courts still play in these countries and in multiple cases how these roles have changed.