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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.


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