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The Expert Witness in Islamic Courts

Medicine and Crafts in the Service of Law

Islam’s tense relationship with modernity is one of the most crucial issues of our time. Within Islamic legal systems, with their traditional preference for eyewitness testimony, this struggle has played a significant role in attitudes toward expert witnesses. Utilizing a uniquely comparative approach, Ron Shaham here examines the evolution of the role of such witnesses in a number of Arab countries from the premodern period to the present.

Shaham begins with a history of expert testimony in medieval Islamic culture, analyzing the different roles played by male experts, especially physicians and architects, and females, particularly midwives. From there, he focuses on the case of Egypt, tracing the country’s reform of its traditional legal system along European lines beginning in the late nineteenth century. Returning to a broader perspective, Shaham draws on a variety of legal and historical sources to place the phenomenon of expert testimony in cultural context. A truly comprehensive resource, The Expert Witness in Islamic Courts will be sought out by a broad spectrum of scholars working in history, religion, gender studies, and law.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Law and Legal Studies: General Legal Studies, Law and Society


“Shaham draws attention to a subject that has been noted by diverse scholars but insufficiently addressed in full, and he brings a wealth of material and issues together in a single place. This is a significant contribution to studies of the role of expert witnesses in legal systems as well as to Islamic scholarship at large.”--Lawrence Rosen, Princeton University

Lawrence Rosen

Table of Contents



Part I    The Premodern Period

1    Between a Witness, a Reporter, and a Judge: The Probative Status of the


2    The Right Hand of Qadis: Male Experts in Judicial Practice  

3    Agents of Patriarchy in the Secluded World of Women: Females as Expert


Part II    The Modern Period

4    Continuity and Reform: The Egyptian Expert System in a Comparative


5    Revealing the Secrets of the Body: Litigants, Courts, and Modern Medicine

in Egypt   

6    From Physiognomy to DNA Testing: Developments in the Establishment

of Paternity

Conclusion: Islamic Expert Witnessing in Comparative Perspective 

Appendix: List of Court Decisions   




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