Anthropology of law and politics, lawgiving and legal practice in Islamic countries, legal pluralism, conflict resolution, legal concepts, Islam in Europe
Yemen, Horn of Africa, Europe (especially Germany)
Beate Backe studied Arabic and Oriental Studies as well as Educational Sciences at the University of Leipzig. From the outset she specialized in the field of Islamic law, with a focus on its development and implementation in various contexts. Her master’s thesis (Magisterarbeit) examined the development of customary law in Indonesia, with particular reference to legal development on the island of Sumatra (2010). Since then she has focused on the theoretical and practical forms of this phenomenon in different contexts. Before joining the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, she was a research assistant at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Leipzig, where she had already worked as a student assistant.
When she joined the Department as a PhD candidate in 2014, Beate intended to conduct research on the practical significance of existing legal pluralism in Yemen and the access to the state judiciary that certain groups within the society have. The underlying premise was that the weak and ineffectual state judiciary in Yemen led some people to resort to other long-standing and newly established non-state institutions to settle their disputes. The research aimed at examining the legal and social factors that encourage certain groups within the population to resort to the state judiciary and deter others from doing so.
However, due to security concerns that rendered long-term fieldwork in Yemen untenable, Beate developed a new project on the ijtihād of Muslim women in Germany. Ijtihād (lit. effort) refers to the process of arriving at personal opinions regarding certain cases or norms by the application of analogical conclusions (qiyās) in accordance with the Qurʾān and the sunna (i.e., the behaviour and sayings of the prophet Muḥammad). Beate explores the role of ijtihād for Muslim women in their endeavour to apply Islamic norms in a Western society. The aim of the project is to describe how women search for answers that will enable them to realize a way of life that corresponds to Islamic norms as implied by Islamic šarīʿa (understood as a comprehensive normative system [deontology] that governs people’s relationship to God [in the form of ritual rules] as well as their relationships among themselves).
Why law and anthropology?
The potential of my approach combining law and anthropology lies in the possibility to reflect upon Muslim women’s negotiation of different normative orders, that is Islamic law (religious law), state law and cultural norms in a non-Islamic society. Through in-depth ethnographic analysis I intend to investigate how Muslim women legitimate their way of life in a non-Islamic (i.e., Western) society and to which extent legal and cultural norms are adopted. The research will thereby contribute to an understanding of the functions, natures, and concepts of norms that influence Muslim women’s thinking and behaviour.