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CES/ISP Lecture. “Experiments in Legal Pluralism: Sharia Law as Minority Right in Interwar Yugoslavia.”

Monday, September 21, 2015
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

In a stunning victory for Muslims across Yugoslavia, in 1921, the new country enshrined Sharia law in its constitution, requiring all Muslims to abide by Islamic law in family matters (marriage, divorce, custody), inheritance, and the management of endowed properties (Waqf). Over the next two decades, the state developed a complex legal and bureaucratic system that simultaneously institutionalized legal sovereignty for the Muslim minority and created grounds for state-sanctioned legal segregation. In no uncertain terms, the constitution made it clear that Muslims constituted a different kind of citizen. On one hand, the enshrinement of Sharia in the Yugoslav constitution defied modern understandings of the concepts of citizenship, emancipation, and legal equality, through which individuals became detached from their religious laws and structures and instead became part of a community of secular citizens. On the other hand, this was a rare realization of the liberal-state principle of minority rights in the arena of legal hegemony. Indeed, the drive for a separate Sharia legal system came largely from within Yugoslavia’s diverse Muslim communities. The majority of Yugoslav Muslims believed that legal separateness was the best path to equality. This talk will explore the tensions between these two ideas, raising the question: was the enshrinement of Sharia a victory for Muslims in Europe or was it an innovative political experiment in minority protections and controls?

Emily Greble is associate professor of history at the City College of New York, where she also coordinates research and creativity for the Division of Humanities and the Arts. Her current book project, Muslims on the Edge of Europe: the Making of a “European” Islam in the Balkans, 1878–1946, analyzes Muslim life, politics, law, and culture in the post-Ottoman Balkans. Her first book, Sarajevo, 1941-1945: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Hitler's Europe, probed the nature of multiculturalism and the ways that a multicultural community responded to the crises of occupation, civil war, and genocide. Greble has held fellowships at the Remarque Institute at NYU, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, and the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. She will be a Fulbright scholar in Serbia in spring 2016.

Sponsors: CES, ISP, CREES

Part of the European Mosque series, jointly sponsored by the Center for European Studies and Islamic Studies Program, which focuses on the mosque and its place in the European landscape. What cultural and social role does the mosque play for Muslims in Europe? How do European mosques blend traditional Islamic and modern European architectural features, and traditional preaching with modern technology? What is unique about the European mosque, and how does it shape the lives of European Muslims?  

Emily Greble, associate professor of history, City College of New York