Chapter

Constructing Institutions in a Political Culture of Personalism

in The Culture of Islam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780226726137
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226726144 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226726144.003.0004
Constructing Institutions in a Political Culture of Personalism

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Islam, it is often noted, has no concept of the legal person. Having culturally fractionated the self, Western polities can more readily ask whether an arbitrary age or ritual passage marks one as capable of contracting, or whether a mental disease or defect renders one immune from liability for various harmful acts. In Islam, by contrast, the focus on relationships and consequences yields, most commonly, an emphasis on who people are in relation to others, rather than where they are in a set life structure, and what consequences have befallen others by their acts. Similarly, the idea of public space—in the sense of an area “owned” by everyone—is largely absent in the Arab polity. People feel no responsibility, for example, for public streets or sidewalks. In each instance, it is the personal (in the Arab sense of that term) that defines the situation, not the (rather unimaginable) construction of a legal person some of whose features can be divorced from others and fixed within an institutional frame.

Keywords: personalism; political culture; legal person; public space; Islam; Arab polity

Chapter.  7956 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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