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This chapter ventures into defining the Islamic legal tradition, its main characteristics as a legal tradition. Three main themes shed light on the nature of Islamic law historically. These themes are (1) legal pluralism, (2) legal determinacy, and (3) legal reform. While defining a tradition is hampered by its pluralism, legal determinacy allows for some stability and a better attempt at definition. I argue that in our conceptualization of the Islamic legal tradition we must incorporate the practice of law in the work of judges, rather than narrowly focusing on the black-letter discourse of jurists. It is this interaction, which is captured in several legal genres, that creates a stable legal system. In addition to the realist nature of this approach, it also promises to open up new possibilities for legal reform.
Pre-modern Muslim jurists drew a clear distinction between the nurturing and upkeep of children, or 'custody', and caring for the child's education, discipline, and property, known as 'guardianship'. Here, Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim analyzes how these two concepts relate to the welfare of the child, and traces the development of an Islamic child welfare jurisprudence akin to the Euro-American concept of the best interests of the child, enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Challenging Euro-American exceptionalism, he argues that child welfare played an essential role in agreements designed by early modern Egyptian judges and families, and that Egyptian child custody laws underwent radical transformations in the modern period. Focusing on a variety of themes, including matters of age and gender, the mother's marital status, and the custodian's lifestyle and religious affiliation, Ibrahim shows that there is an exaggerated gap between the modern concept of the best interests of the child and pre-modern Egyptian approaches to child welfare.
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