Portuguese Colonialism and Islamic Law in Northern Mozambique


  • Liazzat J. K. Bonate


European colonialism was instrumental in transforming aspects of interpretations of the shari'a (Ar., the divine path) and fiqh (Ar., Islamic jurisprudence) into a modern concept of Islamic law. Dutch, British and French scholars and administrators, and associated with them colonized elites, were at the centre of this process. However, virtually nothing is known about the context of Portuguese colonialism. This article aims to examine Portuguese colonial perceptions of Islamic law through the analysis of legal and ethnographic documents about Muslims of northern Mozambique between the period of the 'effective occupation' (1896-1913) and the end of colonialism (1974). The central questions to be addressed are: did the Portuguese colonial regime adopt policies and legal reforms reflecting aspects of Islamic governance in a manner similar to other European powers? Did it grapple with such terms as shari'a, fiqh and "custom" the way other European colonial scholars and administrators did?