The making and unmaking of colonial Shariah in the Sudan

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Seminar Date
May 28, 2008
Until Sudanese independence in 1956 Sharīa courts were part of the colonial machinery. Sharīa was a key component of a three-tier judicial system, the two others being the English common law courts and so-called native courts. Sharīa was partly codified in the Manshūrāt al-mahākim al-Sharīa (circulars). It was part of a modernising colonial bureaucracy and was given a modern shape and to an extent modern content as reflected in certain legal reforms. The dominant madhhab (‘school’ of legal interpretation) in the Sudan was Maliki but the Egyptian Grand Qadis often ignored this fact and based their decisions on the Hanafi madhhab, dominant among the 'ulama in Egypt since Ottoman times. But the Qadis also made innovations in their application of the Sharīa especially in the area of family and personal law. Thus numerous of their judgements drew on both Hanafi and Maliki opinions. The highest authority was the Governor General, in "supreme military and civilian command of the Sudan", and the colonial bureaucracy under him staffed by Britons. The civil courts would serve the British, Europeans and other "non-Mohammedans" in the country such as the Greek community or local and Egyptian Copts. These courts were called "Ordinary courts" revealing the norm set by the British. Muslims, with the means and desire to, could also bring their cases to these courts. Indeed, in all areas not covered by the Sharīa or native courts the "ordinary courts" had jurisdiction.
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