Exploring Common Roots of Environmental Law

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 12, 2016 | Go to article overview

Exploring Common Roots of Environmental Law


Byline: Samyra Idllalne For The Register-Guard

Islamic law is a subject of controversy in the United States, but when we dig a little more deeply, we find roots shared with civil and common law systems aimed at protecting our natural heritage. At home in Morocco, these protections extended to wildlife, including storks that winter in Morocco as they migrate south from Europe across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Storks have always been revered in Morocco. A popular folk tale says that they are actually men migrating from colder countries, transformed into birds for the journey. In imperial cities like Marrakesh, hospitals and homes were held in trust because they provided rooftop habitat for the birds. This particular kind of dedication is called a "waqf" or "habous," an Islamic charitable institution very similar to a charitable trust in U.S. law.

In North Africa, the legal system is a mix of Roman law, Islamic law, customary law and Jewish law. This legal pluralism gave birth to myriad institutions. Waqf, in Islamic law, is but one of many institutions that included some protections for natural resources, but has fallen out of use.

During my stay here in Oregon, I am exploring ways that we might breathe new life into some of these very old institutions in order to protect the environment.

I was fortunate to be accepted as a visiting scholar to the University of Oregon School of Law. I am fortunate to have the chance to live in Oregon. The whole university campus inspires ecology, science and kindness. The trees are breathtaking, the smiles on the faces of colleagues and students are warming and the quiet of the libraries invites deep thought leaning toward spirituality.

This explains why I have been attracted to Oregon twice - first to work with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide on conservation advocacy strategies in Morocco and to participate in the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, and now to deepen my understanding of the public trust doctrine and other legal mechanisms that can be used for nature conservation.

The public trust doctrine belongs to the common law system, which is very different from the Roman law system that I know best. …

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