Judicial Authority and Qāḍīs' Autonomy under the Abbasids

Abstract : As Joseph Schacht argued in the 1950s, the office of qāḍī began in the Umayyad period as that of a "legal secretary" to provincial governors. Documentary evidence from Egypt confirms that governors were indeed regarded as being the highest judicial authority in early Islam, and that their legal powers far surpassed that of any other judge. In large cities, governors appointed and dismissed qāḍīs at their will; decisions taken by qāḍīs' were could be swiftly overruled by political authorities. Although the Abbasids reformed and centralised the judiciary in the second half of eighth century AD, qāḍīs were still subordinate to reigning rulers and unable to impose judgements that displeased the caliph or his main representatives. The increasing political and social influence of scholars and the development of classical schools of law eventually changed this situation. Relying on a body of both narrative and legal literature, this paper addresses the qāḍīs' attempts to resist political rulers' interference with the judiciary by asserting themselves as true representatives of the shariʻa. It argues that Ḥanafi legal literature, dating from the ninth and tenth centuries AD, gradually elaborated a theory on the relationship between the qāḍī and the ruler; this theory was instrumental in doing away with political infringement on the judicial prerogative. This theory was soon incorporated into adab literature, whose stories of rulers entirely subjugated to the rule of law became a new political model.
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Mathieu Tillier. Judicial Authority and Qāḍīs' Autonomy under the Abbasids. Al-Masaq, Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2014, 26, pp.119-131. ⟨10.1080/09503110.2014.915102⟩. ⟨halshs-01057979⟩

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