In recent decades, academic debates on Islam and economics have indulged a range of extreme positions, if not caricatures, that have influenced global law and policy debates on development, international trade, finance, and banking. For some, the Muslim majority world—the Arab Middle East, but also the coastal regions of India and Africa – suffer from economic underdevelopment partly because of the longstanding influence of Islam and Islamic law. From the formalism of Islamic commercial law to the absence of a theory of corporations, they have argued that Islamic law is one factor, among several, that has limited economic progress in these regions. Alternatively, economists and others from principally Muslim majority regions have argued—with a certain post-colonial indignance—that an Islamic approach to economics might have forestalled the global recession of 2008, if conventional European banking and finance systems directed greater attention to equity-sharing investment structures that have been developed within the ethos of Islamic finance. Focused on the present and projected backwards, these claims rest on competing visions of Islamic economics construed in the shadow of North Atlantic economic models and commercial practices, and established on limited historical and archival evidence.
“Between the Straits” is a research lab devoted to unearthing the rich and diverse histories of commerce, capitalism, and economic thought from the earliest days of Islamic expansion in the Arabian Peninsula to contemporary movements of trade, money and people across the Mediterranean and the eastern and western Indian Ocean arenas. Geographically bound by the Straits of Gibraltar and Malacca, and spanning medieval and modern historical periods, this research lab explores histories of law, economics, and politics through the perspective of seaborne and overland trade. Working in different geographical contexts, historical periods, and disciplinary traditions, some scholars affiliated with the lab will explore the movements of capital, goods, and peoples, while others will examine the technologies (institutional, intellectual, and otherwise) that have been implemented to ensure effective and efficient economies in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean regions.
The Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea have been rich sites for tracing the movements of Islam through law, economics, politics, and theology. In much of the existing scholarship on the Indian Ocean, however, the western Indian Ocean arena has dominated over its eastern counterpart. This project places these bodies of water together in the same analytic, regional, and historical frame. Thinking between the Straits of Gibraltar and Malacca, the research lab will emphasize the oceanic, terrestrial, and riverine as overlapping and interconnected networks of trade, travel, and transport through which conceptions and practices of Islam moved, changed, and expanded.
The lab consists of five research nodes:
- Early Islamic economic thought
- Seafaring, riverine, and overland trade
- Economies of resource management and instrumentalization (e.g. energy and the environment)
- Imperial economics (Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal, British, French)
- Islamic law and economics
The project is deliberately wide in its range, scope, and scale. The objective is to bring together scholars working in different regions, time periods, and disciplines to think with each other about what capitalism, economics, law, and ethics look like through the rich histories of Islam rather than solely through histories of Europe. Ultimately, this approach will intervene and recalibrate contemporary claims about Islam, law, and economics, either as paradox, as source of underdevelopment, or as panacea to global economic inequalities.
In the 2018-2019 academic year, this research lab will be directed by IIS Director Anver M. Emon, and UBC Law and Society Program Chair, Renisa Mawani. For more information about the lab and its upcoming events, contact the IIS at email@example.com