Dawānī (d. 908/1502–3) on Diverse Forms of Evidence

In this excerpt, Jalāl al-Dīn al-Dawānī (d. 908/1502–3), philosopher and chief judge of the southern Iranian province of Fars in the late fifteenth century CE, reports that the maẓālim courts were able to resolve many cases because of their ability to consider diverse forms of evidence. In contrast, he says that the traditional Islamic courts’ admission of only oral testimony could hamper Muslim judges’ ability to administer justice. In his chapter on circumstantial evidence in Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts, Hossein Modarressi draws on Dawānī’s treatise and its illustration of how justice was obstructed in the traditional courts of his day through bureaucratic maneuvers orchestrated by the ʿudūl, or court clerks. The ʿudūl nitpicked at the specific wording of the petitions and various types of testimony, and they oversaw a lengthy process of determining the credibility of witnesses by bringing in further witnesses to testify for or against the main witnesses. Modarressi quotes Dawānī’s lament that as a consequence, “a small petition [lingered] around in the court for such a long time that the parties [got] fed up with the process. When the case is a criminal case, the purpose is completely lost” (115). Modarressi argues that these difficulties in traditional courts were exacerbated by the fact that Islamic legal procedure restricted judges to using testimony or oaths, and that these procedural rules were not open to modification.

This source is part of the Online Companion to the book Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts, ed. Intisar A. Rabb and Abigail Krasner Balbale (ILSP/HUP 2017)—a collection of primary sources and other material used in and related to the book.

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