la Martire, Rituals of Deposition: Debating Oath-Breaking Theory

Rituals of Deposition (khalʿ): Major Debates in Oath-Breaking Theory

Dr. Corrado la Martire (University of Naples “L’Orientale”)

The perspectives to study the rituals of deposition have been various. Some scholars have attempted to describe it as a part of the medieval Islamic constitution in the early juridical Islamic literature. One of these scholars is Patricia Crone, whose working definition of the Islamic constitution remains one of the few addressing the interrelationship between classic pre-caliphal history and the classical Islamic juridical literature. Others maintain that while the traditional or the classical Islamic covenant is based on Qurʾānic principles, it changed and evolved enormously over many centuries though still maintaining some sense of continuity. This continuity represent the breathing material from which the modern and post-modern constitutions have been built, the past of the Islamic original covenant that is not some dead hand but living, whose ideas provide guidance for actions. According to Andrew Marsham, the early juridical Islamic literature “should not be intended as works of history or even politics, but they are important evidence for constitutional law” (2009, p. 312).

Recent studies of the theories put forth by Muslim jurists, philosophers and other thinkers over the ages on issues relating to covenants in jurisprudence and political theory called for a “diachronic-theoretical” approach, in the footsteps of Ann Lambton (1981), Erwin Rosenthal (1958) and Sherman Jackson (1996, pp. 39-62). These studies provide critical textual analyses of a broad cross-section of theorists who wrote from a variety of perspectives, in different times and places. The diachronic approach provide richness to a general picture of covenants in classical Islam, while the theoretical approach serves the purpose to show that these jurists did not write in response to abstract issues, but to address more concrete issues connected with domestic politics.

In the following, I attempt to summarize the main debates about the deposition (khalʿ) of an unjust or illegitimate ruler in the major early Sunni juridical literature. To guide my analysis, I have used ʿAbd al-Qāhir Ṭāhir al-Baghdādī (d. 1037) original headings in his Uṣūl al-dīn, which capture well the main debates that defined the Islamic political covenants across the centuries. This will allow to define a framework of general principles upon which the political contract is based. Starting from these assumptions, the paper aims to figure out all the minor debates aimed at defining the oath breaking process. But the results and the proposals ran counter to reality. They are illustrated through examples of covenants from the glorious past.