Erin E. Stiles


This paper considers legal pluralism on the Swahili Coast by looking at marital dispute resolution among Muslims in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The state of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island polity of Tanzania, has its own semi-independent legal system, which includes Islamic courts for family disputes for Muslims. Through investigating legal pluralism from the point of view of lay people and their day-to-day legal practice, the paper argues for studying legal pluralism from the ground up, thus building on calls from Caplan and Dupret for socio-legal scholars studying legal pluralism to ask “what is the law” through the eyes of everyday people. In particular, I aim to show how different legal actors—primarily lay people—recognize and apprehend this pluralism and compare their often very different arguments about the ramifications and consequences of such pluralism. The paper draws on ethnographic data, interviews, and documents from rural Zanzibari Islamic courts and the surrounding community.



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