The Private and Public Spheres
Volume 70 No. 2 (Fall 2003)
Arien Mack, Editor
Table of Contents Abstracts and Notes on Contributors Ordering information
For the past four years, Social Research has engaged in an international exploration into the subject of privacy by organizing three conferences dedicated to the subject. We took this-for us-unusual step of organizing multiple conferences on the same theme, because the concept of privacy, and what constitutes a threat to privacy, is entirely socially constructed, and as such is contingent on a particular culture. Thus, a full understanding of what "privacy" means demanded cross-cultural explorations.
Special issues of Social Research based on papers from the first two privacy conferences have already appeared. The initial conference on privacy was held at the New School University in October 2000, and the issue containing its proceedings was published in spring 2001 (vol. 68, no. 1). This was followed by a second conference, organized in cooperation with the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, which is where the conference was held in March 2001. The second conference explored the subject of privacy in post communist Europe, and was designed to explore conceptions of privacy that prevailed in the Central and East European communist world and those that have emerged during this transition period. The issue based on this conference appeared in spring 2002 (vol. 69, no. 1).
Since the concepts of public and private are central to the relationship between religion and state, as well the development of civil society, and are also key to defining the boundaries between the state, the community, the family, and the individual, the privacy project was incomplete without some exploration of the concept of privacy in the Islamic world. In December 2002 we held a third privacy conference on Islam: The Public and Private Spheres. The conference, which took place at New School University, explored the concept of privacy in several of the many vibrant Muslim societies worldwide (both Shi'a and Sunni), and the present issue contains the conference proceedings. Together, the three conferences and issues begin to paint a portrait of how this essential social distinction between public and private has played out and is playing out in very different settings, and provides a sense of why the distinction is central to the ways in which societies are organized and controlled.
Vol. 37 No. 2 (Summer 1970)
Vol. 41 No. 2 (Summer 1974)
Beyond Charisma: Religious Movements as Discourse
Vol. 46 No. 1 (Spring 1979)
Myth in Contemporary Life
Vol. 52 No. 2 (Summer 1985)
Religion and Politics
Vol. 59 No. 1 (Spring 1992)
Iran Since the Revolution
Vol. 67 No. 2 (Summer 2000)
Martyrdom, Self-sacrifice and Self-denial
Vol. 75 No. 2 (Summer 2008)
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Table of Contents
Part I: Public/Private: The Distinction
|Mohsen Kadivar||An Introduction to the Public and Private Debate in Islam|
Part II: Islamic Law: Boundaries and Rights
|Talal Asad||Boundaries and Right in Islamic Law: Introduction|
|Baber Johansen||Apostasy as Objective and Depersonalized Fact: Two Recent Egyptian Court Judgment|
|Brinkley Messick||Property and the Private in a Sharia System|
|Roy Mottahedeh and Kristen Stilt||Public and Private as Viewed through the Work of the Muhtasib|
|Frank E. Vogel||The Public and Private in Saudi Arabia: Restrictions on the Powers of Committees for Ordering the Good and Forbidding the Evil|
Part III: Individual, Family, Community, and State
|Juan R I. Cole||The Taliban, Women, and the Hegelian Private Sphere|
|Nilüfer Göle||The Voluntary Adoption of Islamic Stigma Symbols|
|Mehrangiz Kar||The Invasion of the Private Sphere in Iran|
|Saba Mahmood||Ethical Formation and Politics of Individual Autonomy in Contemporary Egypt|
Part IV: Media and Information
|Kian Tajbakhsh||Media in the Islamic World: Introduction|
|Geneive Abdo||Media and Information: The Case of Iran|
|Jon W. Anderson||New Media, New Publics: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere of Islam|
|Hassan Mneimneh||The New Intra-Arab Cultural Space in Form and Content: The Debates Over an American "Letter"|
Table of Contents Back to the Top
and Notes on Contributors
(at time of publication)
Introduction to the Public and Private Debate in Islam
and Right in Islamic Law: Introduction
The jurists of classical Islamic Law defined the interior forum (batin) as a limit to the religious validity of the sentences of Muslim judges (and political authorities), because these have neither access to God's knowledge nor to the individual believer’s conscience and motivations. They can base their decisions solely on exterior appearances (zahir) and can, therefore, neither be sure that their judgments correspond to the facts nor to the intentions and memories of the individuals concerned. This holds especially true for questions of belief and unbelief. From the eighth to the nineteenth century, the norms of Islamic law were the result of learned debates among independent jurists and their schools of law. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was integrated into the codes enacted by the competent institutions of the national states and lost its normative authority in most spheres of the modern state law. It remained dominant only in personal statute law, i.e. the rules concerning marriage and divorce, family and succession. From the early seventies of the twentieth century, opposition against the neglect of religious norms in modern state law was centered on the demand for the “codification of Islamic law” (taqnin al-shari’a). Its leaders were jurists trained in modern law faculties, who wanted to insert the norms of classical Islamic Law into the codes of the national state with which they are familiar. The ethical debates of classical Islamic law, obviously, did not lend themselves easily to such an approach.
The jurists movement for the codification of Islamic law gained in momentum during the eighties when, in a number of states, it succeeded in assuring for the classical apostasy rules a place in the modern criminal codes. In other states, such as Egypt, the highest courts opened the way for apostasy trials. The analysis of one apostasy judgment of the highest Egyptian court shows that the court understands belief and apostasy as objective facts that can be separated from the person who professes or denies them. It is on this question that my lecture focuses. The court effectively claims the role of the highest instance in questions of belief and unbelief. Belief and apostasy thus become depersonalized objective facts without any relation to the intentions of the individuals concerned. The court’s sentence does not refer to the believer’s own interior forum (batin): the concept seems to be irrelevant to the judges. Their definition of apostasy serves to control the ideas that can legitimately be discussed in the public sphere. It denies bold reinterpretations of Islam, but also a number of political persuasions and theories, the right of access to the public space and assigns them the private sphere as their legitimate abode. A new concept of private and public is thus developed in the detailed reasoning by which the court justifies its judgment.
There is, to my understanding, nothing in the religion of Islam that renders such a stance necessary. Other courts, in Egypt, develop other ideas of the principles of Islamic normativity and in other Arab states go so far as to develop a concept of privacy that would forbid the debates discussed in this lecture. It seems important to underline that the use of classical elements in the court’s judgment does not conceal the fact that the ethical criteria of classical Muslim law find little place in this jurisdiction that represents a special version of modern legal positivism.
Johansen is the Directeur detudes at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en
Sociales, Paris, where he teaches at the Centre d’etude des normes
He is co-executive editor of the journal “Islamic Law and Society”
1994), and area editor for “Islamic Law in the Oxford Encyclopedia of
History”. His publications focus on the history and the present of
Property and the Private in a Sharia System
The case of highland Yemen up to around the middle of the twentieth century involves a history different from most Muslim societies in that, from 1919, the Yemeni state was independent. The problem I address concerns the utility of thinking about the highland property regime in this era in relation to the categories of "private" and "public." What sort of antecedents existed, at the level of property relations, for later commercial transformations that would culminate in such things as Pizza Hut franchises? In Yemen, the polity of the period was a type of Islamic state, one based on the shari`a in ideology and in application and headed by a classical form of jurist-leader, a figure known as an imam. Prior to the twentieth century, this Yemeni form of a shari`a-based Islamic polity had a thousand year history in the highlands. Shari`a courts had exclusive competence as state tribunals, and judges, trained on old-style law books, heard the full gamut of litigation. By contrast, colonial changes in other Muslim societies typically entailed a sharp alteration and restriction of the sphere of the shari`a, often limiting application to the domain of "family law" alone. At the same time, the highlands had yet to commence the other great and, elsewhere, ongoing modern transformation of the shari`a, codification and legislation, which would not begin in Yemen until after the Revolution of 1962.Highland society at mid-century was agrarian, based primarily on settled plow cultivation, and the associated property regime was almost exclusively "private." In Yemen, the "private" property regime centered conceptually on milk, a category of individual ownership of immoveable property, and on the concept of mal, a commercial commodity. As a form of private, landed property, milk involved rights that could be acquired, alienated and inherited, and the associated agricultural production was based on lease contracts between landlords and sharecroppers. Pious endowments were the basis for one of the great Muslim "public" institutions, which supported mosques, schools, water systems, etc. Another fundamental "public" institution was an extension of the "private" commercial notion of mal into the state institution of the 'House of Mal,' or Treasury. Other key "public" institutions were the imamate itself, a form of Islamic state, and the shari`a court.
shari`a system can be thought of in terms of three levels of legal
At the highest level, shari`a doctrine, the jurisprudence of the
constituted an ideology of the property regime. The doctrine provided
for both the range of substantive undertakings and for court processes,
but the relationship of these models to the property relations and to
on the ground is a key question. At the lowest level, the routine
of ongoing, uncontested practice proliferated. These included ordinary
sale documents, leases, marriage contracts, endowment instruments,
and estate inheritance instruments. Between high doctrine and low
were the records of shari`a court judgments, records in which the
and contradictions of the property system were expressed, argued and
upon. In certain problem areas of the law, the ruling imams's personal
doctrinal "choices" were designed to guide court judges in their
Public and Private as Viewed through the Work of the Muhtasib
Roy Mottahedeh and Kristen Stilt
Roy Mottahedah is Gurney Professor of Islamic History at Harvard University. His major work is on the pre-modern social and intellectual history of the Islamic Middle East. His publications include Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society and The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. He is currently working on the medieval Middle Eastern literature on "marvels” and is the faculty adviser of a new journal, The Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review.
Kristin Stilt is a Ph.D candidate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University.
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Public and Private in Saudi Arabia: Restrictions on the Powers of
for Ordering the Good and Forbidding the Evil
Taliban, Women, and the Hegelian Private Sphere
Invasion of the Private Sphere in Iran
Formation and Politics of Individual Autonomy in Contemporary Egypt.
in the Islamic World: Introduction [Click for full article]
Media and Information: The Case of Iran
Throughout Iran’s modern history, control of the public sphere has remained in the hands of the state. With virtually no trace of a civil society, public opinion has played only a minimal role in influencing state affairs. The 1979 Islamic revolution could be viewed as a break in this historical trend, but public opinion retreated into the background once the clerics solidified their power -- and then kept it by invoking religious orthodoxy to deflect any challenges. Thus, it should have been no surprise that the press revolution, which began in the late 1990s as Mohammad Khatami came to power, collapsed a few years later. While an array of newspapers and journals are still published in Iran today, the persecution of leading editors and publishers with pro-reform sympathies has successfully cleared the field of any real threat to the status quo.
The early theorists of the reform movement that came to be identified with President Khatami saw a free and independent press as a vital part of an Islamic Repub lic. For centuries, they argued, the state had used its control over the media -- first the publication of books, then newspapers and finally radio and television -- to push society toward the rulers’ desired ends. In contrast, the reformers saw a free press as the best way to foster open debate and political and social pluralism, unleashing forces that would allow society at large to determine its own fate. In other words, there could be no pre-determined end, shaped by fiat. Their chosen weapon in the battle for a civil society was the newspaper, a medium with a rich history in Iran of social and political activism. Persian newspapers, particularly those published abroad and smuggled into Iran in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had been responsible for remarkable changes in the political landscape. They introduced liberal social and political ideas from Europe and provided readers with a new, simplified language in which to debate such notions. Most important of all, the early press helped create the very idea of society as a political actor in its own right. Within months of Khatami’s move to the Presidential Palace, his new appointees in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance unleashed a “press revolution.” They quickly streamlined the issuing of publication licenses; countered Iran’s traditional centralism by encouraging the rise of local and provincial newspapers; eased the financial hardships of independent publishers; and sought protection under the existing Press Law for controversial editors and commentators facing the hostility of the ruling clerics. The result was a wave of entrepreneurial and journalistic creativity unmatched since the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911.
the spring of 2000, the hard-line clerics had had enough. They used
almost complete control of the public space to shut the door on the
revolution” and to drive their critics, including many learned clerics,
back into private dissent. Dozens of newspapers were closed and
journalists were prosecuted, most for violating so-called Islamic
anything like public discourse was forced back into the shadows. The
with which the clerical establishment crushed the free press reflected
the basic weaknesses and miscalculations of the reform movement. The
theologians had established themselves as far back as the
Revolution as the final arbiters of freedom of expression under Islam.
Without a wholesale re-evaluation of the role of the clergy and the
concept of freedom in a religious system of government, this power was
destined to go unchecked. The reformers had also put too much emphasis
on a free press, in the absence of any other real building blocks of
society. Newspapers were expected to play the roles of political
of independent think tanks and, in the case of Jameah and Tous, of
of social, political and economic independence. It was a burden the
press was simply unable to carry.
Media, New Publics: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere of Islam
blishing (1997, http://www.press. umich.edu/jep/
New Intra-Arab Cultural Space in Form and Content: The Debates Over an