The CENTmar Research Lab analytically employs the spatial metaphor of ‘centre’ and ‘margin’ to examine across the longue durée of Islamic law, in conversation with other traditions of law, the changing conditions of what counts as law and what does not. While this spatial metaphor has informed development theory, political sociology, and geography, it is deployed here to develop original research and innovative teaching on law and history by theorizing about law on, at, and from the margins. CENTmar employs the centre-margin metaphor as a critical standpoint on contemporary legal scholarship and legal education, focusing on their exclusion of, in political and symbolic terms, whole peoples from the promise of belonging and citizenship. CENTmar begins with the premise that the professionally polite language of thinking like a lawyer, legal reform, and even reconciliation, if left uninterrogated, impede responsible intellectual and curricular production in a global legal landscape in which some traditions of law are relegated to the margins of legality, while others occupy, police, and at times violently defend the centre.
CENTmar takes inspiration from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #28, which calls upon “law schools in Canada to require all law students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations.” CENTmar contends that law schools run the risk of committing epistemic violence on indigenous traditions unless we also ask the following: Who has law? What does it (or should it) look like? Who decides? And how do we teach it when its claims to both legitimacy and monopoly are contested?
Call #28 poses intellectual and pedagogic challenges that are not unique to Canada. Section 211 of South Africa’s constitution, recognizing customary law and tribal forms of governance, is fraught with these challenges. Likewise the Zapatista uprising in 1994 took shape through the conflict between local customary laws, Mexican constitutional law, and the forces of global trade and finance represented by the NAFTA agreement. If left unaddressed, these challenges become kindling for civil disputes. In these and other cases, some forms of legality enjoy coercive legitimacy over and against others, the latter of which are unwittingly relegated to the margins of legality as mere ‘culture’, ‘tradition’, or ‘values’. Indeed, what unites indigenous law, Islamic law, and other forms of law is that they operate on the margins of today’s conditions of legality. While often cast to the margins of legality, CENTmar re-centres them as research standpoints from which to interrogate the possibility of justice.
Anver M. Emon, Law and History, University of Toronto
Youcef Soufi, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute of Islamic Studies