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Councils without Customs, Qadis without States: Property and Community in the Algerian Touat

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This article investigates relations between qadis and local assemblies in the Touat in the Algerian Sahara. It argues that both drew on an Islamic framework of reference, even though they were frequently obliged to conjugate universal legal injunctions with local notions of overriding communal responsibility that had no place in Islamic law. Islamic notions of private property remained central to the functioning of local assemblies, in which political rights depended on ownership rather than residence. Meanwhile, qadis necessarily relied on the assembly as a source of expertise, for the validation of documents and judgments, and for political and at times also financial backing. Tensions did occur between individual rights of ownership and collective responsibilities, but assemblies and qadis tended to deal with them in similar ways.

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