House of Obedience: Social Norms, Individual Agency and Historical Contingency
Based on 14 months of fieldwork, this paper examines the influence of social norms, individual agency and historical contingency on the practice of House of Obedience (bayt al-tā‘a) in the sharī‘a courts of the Gaza Strip. It argues that the text of Islamic family law is only one dimension in the administration of House of Obedience. Aspects concerning the wider sociopolitical context, notably the pre-eminence of the notion of family honor (sharaf), the mutually constitutive relation between the sharī‘a court and the community and the specificities of the court cases are crucial. As an ideological construct, the law does not necessarily correspond to a social milieu full of inconsistencies, oppositions, contradictions, and tensions. Thus, the practice of law has always been characterized by pluralism, flexibility and a degree of ambiguity, whereas the text remains characterized by rigidity, restriction, stability and, in some aspects, superficial clarity.