The revival of Bedouin customary legal processes in Jordan

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a Three Minute Thesis presentation by one of our higher degree research students who is exploring Bedouin customary legal practices and processes in Jordan. It caused me to reflect on the indigenous origins of many ADR processes and also the importance of  identifying where these community practices still exist, understanding how they work, and exploring their contemporary power and potential

Munther Emad describes his PhD project as follows:

“There are a range of Bedouin customary law practices in Jordan and other Arab societies, including neighbourhood groups, delegations of wise elders delivering oracles to assist community groups to resolve their own disputes, victim-offender mediation, tribal councils and inter-tribe negotiations. These differ between Bedouins in the Negev-Naqab desert and urban dwellers in Middle Eastern cities. Some of these have similarities to restorative justice practices in that they operate on the margins of or outside the official legal process, they confront the offender with the victim, include community representatives, explore outcomes that restore social harmony and involve participants in decision-making. They deal, in varying degrees, with concepts like repairing the harm, facing up to crime and collective responsibility.

The purpose of this research is to examine the system of Bedouin customary law practices particularly within the context of ‘Jordanian model’ in terms of how they operate and evolve in contemporary society. The research utilises the lenses of ‘restorative justice’, ‘legal pluralism’ as well as ‘access to justice’ in order to critique Bedouin customary law and predict the prospect of these practices in the future of both Jordan and the Middle East. For this reason, this research draws on the lessons learnt around the world with regard to how indigenous customary laws are currently being utilised. The narrative of this research is articulated through a storytelling style in order to best describe the nature of Bedouin customary law, thus a number of stories are utilised throughout the research. It also involves explaining the features of Bedouin customary law ‘in the shadow of the law’, supplemented by ethnographic observations and interviews with a diverse group of community leaders.”

Munther’s research has the potential to contribute to our understanding of how and why these processes work in a contemporary setting and to consider their continuing relevance.


Closer to home there is a growing understanding of Aboriginal dispute resolution practices, documented by NADRAC in its 2009 report Solid Work You Mob Are Doing: Case studies in Indigenous Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management in Australia and illustrated in the “Solid work” Indigenous Mediator Forum by Maureen Abbott, Sharon Anderson, Helen Bishop, Nelson Mungatopi, Kurt Noble & Madhu Panthee at the 2014 National Mediation Conference.

The peaceful resolution of conflict is also deeply embedded in Islamic religious texts and practices. We need to better understand these parallel systems and how ‘Australian Muslims can better navigate their way through the two legal settings that they wish to comply with’, and to explore how  family dispute resolution process might be adapted to meet their needs, as Ghena Krayem argued in her 2014 empirical study  Islamic Family Law in Australia.  These processes are not without their risks and challenges, as Sami Bano has documented in her 2012 research Muslim Women and Shari’ah Councils, Transcending the Boundaries of Community and Law.  Marion Boyd’s 2004 report Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion  of the Canadian debates about these matters demonstrated that the issue is fraught and contentious, and there may not be much appetite for publicly canvassing these matters currently. However, there is potential for considerable professional and community benefit in exploring if and how community, indigenous, religious and mainstream dispute resolution practitioners might learn from one another.



This entry was posted in Dispute resolution by Sue Armstrong PhD. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Armstrong PhD

Sue Armstrong is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, Western Sydney University, Australia. She is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, mediator, conflict coach and a collaborative practice coach. She has published, researched and taught about family dispute resolution. She also supports people to separate compassionately in her family mediation practice Armstrong Mediation.

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