Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Vincent Crapanzano

Committee Members

Abdi I. Samatar

Mandana Limber

Donald Robotham

Gary Wilder

Subject Categories

Islamic Studies | Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Religion, Islam, Shari‘a, Political Islam, Africa, Horn of Africa, and Somalia


This dissertation, based on a year and eight months of fieldwork, is a historical ethnography of a Shari‘a-based movement which appeared in Mogadishu, Somalia within a year after the complete disintegration of the central government in 1991. The movement originated when religious authorities and “traditional” elders established centers in various neighborhoods in Mogadishu to deal with the vacuum of power after the fall of the state. Since Shari‘a structures of authority and discourse were integral to the formation and functioning of the centers, they became known as Shari‘a courts. My work on the Shari‘a courts intervenes in the literature on contemporary Islamic movements in two ways: a) I argue that the practices, norms, and discourses referred to as Shari‘a which informed the Shari‘a court movement in Mogadishu cannot simply be equated with the concept of “law.” Rather, Shari‘a was an overarching ethical framework that set the standards of right and wrong in the conduct of life, including the legal; b) Contrary to much of the literature on “African Islam,” which holds that political Islamic movements in sub-Saharan Africa are inspired by ideologies that are foreign to the countries and regions of the continent, I argue that such movements should be understood within the deeply rooted historical legacies and traditions of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.