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The Role and the Modalities of Trial by Collective Oath in the Berber-speaking Highlands of Morocco

Islamic law, as embodied in the Shari 'a - which in turn is based upon the Qur'an - has always been against oaths sworn collectively by any individual accused of a crime in the company and with the support of his agnatic kinsmen. It has done its best to individualise or decollectivise such oaths. But in one form or another, they have always been a feature of the customary law of many if not most Muslim tribal societies. By contrast, Shari 'a law, the law of orthodox Islam, has generally been found in fact to apply most easily to urban conditions rather than to rural or, in particular, tribal ones. In this respect tribesmen, who are, normally speaking, more conservative, have tended to cling to older beliefs. Furthermore, as tribal societies in Islam have always regarded the agnatic lineage group as their major social unit, one such belief is that the support of a man by his agnatic kinsmen at an oath, in the event of an accusation against him by a member of another lineage group of any grave misdemeanour on his part, carries more weight than if, as the Shari 'a stipulates, he were to swear to his innocence alone, on his own. This last is the case among the great majority, if not all, of the Arabic-speakers in Morocco, as elsewhere.