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Dr Wissam Halawi

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow

As a specialist in medieval Islamic social history, I have a substantial interest in examining the relationship between theoretical legal discourses, hagiographical traditions, documents of the practice on the one hand, and the functioning of social institutions on the other. Hitherto, my research has particularly focused on rural communities, as well as religious minorities, in the Islamic lands; to analyse how adepts’ everyday lives were organised, but also how religious and local institutions interacted with official ones. Hence, I joined the IAIS as a Research Fellow within the LAWALISI (Law, Authority and Learning in Imami Shi’ite Islam) Project, to explore the social ramifications of Shīʿī legal literature, mainly the books of fiqh, written in Baghdad in the 10th and 11th Centuries. Much valuable study has already been undertaken on these texts by historians of Islamic thought. However, a new approach could enhance our understanding of legal theories that Shīʿī scholars elaborated during that period, to deal with the absence of the Imam, and that of his representatives (sufarāʾ). Considering the doctrinal adjustments of the “Four Precepts (al-aḥkām al-arbaʿa)” – namely the legal taxes (ḫums), legal punishment (ḥudūd), collective prayer (ṣalāt al-ǧumʿa), and holy war (ǧihād) – as a case study, I intend to examine the extent to which this change was merely a theoretical development, or whether it had practical repercussions for the running of Shīʿī communities then. 

As part of the Maronite Research Project that I have been working on with Elise Voguet (CNRS-Paris) for the past two years, I am studying the unpublished notarial documents of the Qannūbīn Monastery (Mount of Lebanon) dated from the 15th and 16th Centuries. This invaluable literature allows us to find out more about the establishment of the Maronite patriarchy in the sacred valley of Qādīšā, and about land property and taxation in the late Mamluk and the early Ottoman periods. It attests that the most prestigious Maronite institution in Syria was recognised by the central state then, and acquired a useful familiarity with Islamic notarial practices and contract law, as they are described in books of šurūṭ. For the presentations given in two voices (with Elise Voguet) on this topic, see "Biography". Forthcoming: an article, with an Arabic Critical Edition and a French Translation of two documents. 

In my PhD work, my focus was on the History of Druzism in the premodern period. Based on hagiographical and legal unpublished sources, along with narrative local literature, I made a thorough analysis of the social and political context of the emergence of the first Druze school of law in the mountains of Syria in the late 15th Century. The historical critical method and the anthropological approach were essential to my understanding and interpretation of these new Druze texts. I showed that, contrary to preconceived ideas, the celebrated Emir Ǧamāl al-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh (d. 884/1479), now the supposed founder of the Druze maḏhab, is not the author of the first treatises of law. Indeed, both the methodology of law and legal reasoning, and the cumulative Druze doctrine of positive law, have been elaborated after his death, most probably by his disciples based in the villages of the Ġarb and the Šūf. Such a revision was made possible, firstly, by deconstructing the mythical figure of the Emir; and secondly, by examining his life and action within the family context of Banū al-Ḥusayn, the powerful Buḥturid Emirs of the Ġarb throughout the late premodern period. Moreover, I examine how and to what extent this social and political context has been the cradle of the first religious (albeit non-official) Druze institutions. For instance, the functioning of the institution of the sāyis, which is substantiated in the Druze treatises of law, is close to that of the qāḍīin Islam; but unlike the latter, the former doesn’t have any coercive power. In sum, I analyse the willingness of the religious chiefs to establish a normative framework, and to structure justice within the community by subjecting adepts to a specific Druze legal theory. For my articles on the History of Druzism, and on the History of Druze Law, see "Biography". Forthcoming: the publication of my doctoral dissertation (in French); a systematic study of Druze Law (especially on topics such as marriage, sexuality, education, inheritance and trading relationships), with an Arabic Critical Edition and English/French Translation of excerpts from the Druze legal treatises.

From September 2014 to July 2017, I taught first and third year undergraduate classes on medieval Islamic social and political history at the Sorbonne University (Paris IV). Besides enabling students to discover the medieval Islamic history in its plurality, I stressed the historical critical method to help them to develop their own point of view of primary sources, or within a subject (such as the Holy War, and status of women in Islam). Furthermore, I have acquired significant competences in Arabic Codicology and Palaeography, which have permitted me to date the manuscripts that I used in my doctoral thesis. My skills in Arabic philology were crucial in my work as well, to be able to analyse the Druze medieval texts of my corpus thoroughly. 

JOURNAL ARTICLES

“Arbitration and Mediation in the 9th/15th century among the Druze Gharb” (French), Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée (REMMM), 140, 2016, p. 101-120.

“The Druze Reform in the Syrian mountains in the fifteenth century” (French), Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée (REMMM), 135, 2014, p. 99-130.

“Druze Manuscripts earlier than the 9th/15th century?” (French), Bulletin d’Études Orientales (BEO), 62, 2013, p. 149-169.

“The Kitāb durrat al-tāğ wa-sullam al-miʻrāğ of Ibn Naṣr: An eulogy of Ğamāl al-Dīn Abdallah al-Tannūḫī (820-884/1417-1479)” (French), Arabica, 58, 2011, p. 128-164.

“The Druzes in Medieval Arabic Chronicles: an exploded narration” (French), Studia Islamica, 104/105, 2007, p. 103-132.