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The Culture of IslamChanging Aspects of Contemporary Muslim Life$
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Lawrence Rosen

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226726137

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226726144.001.0001

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Constructing Institutions in a Political Culture of Personalism

Constructing Institutions in a Political Culture of Personalism

(p.56) 4 Constructing Institutions in a Political Culture of Personalism
The Culture of Islam
University of Chicago Press

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

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