Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Since the inception of the “War on Terror,” many individuals of Muslim background have been prosecuted through "preventive" measures in the Article IV Federal Courts. Religion prominently features in these litigations, and shariah (i.e., topics related to Islamic law and jurisprudence) is frequently used as evidence against the accused. During these court cases, legal experts seek to define Islam, Islamic cultures, and Islamic law in a particular way using normative liberal legal discourse. Based on my ethnographic observation of courtroom processes and close reading of trial transcripts, I will discuss in this paper how through courtroom procedures, specifically lawyer-witness interactions, Islam is defined and understood in these litigations. I argue that the trial process reproduces and constructs a monolithic understanding of Islam based on pre-established legal categories to interpret topics and concepts of Islam rather than using interpretations from actual Islamic traditions and jurisprudence. Situating these court cases within the larger colonial and historical context of cultural translation and transformation, I discuss how this is a continuation of a long-standing Euro-American traditions privileging a particular understanding of religion. I also argue that the use of Islam-related “evidence” against the accused in these trials is not only a way of regulating Muslim bodies, but this gives rise to paradoxes in the liberal, secular legal order through which Euro-American societies maintain imperial hierarchy and promote biopolitical power over racialized groups.