The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Islamic law poetry in American courts


Wednesday morning's arrest record erasure/libel decision from the Second Circuit quotes—quite aptly, I think—a stanza from Omar Khayyam's "Rubaiyat":

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

The stanza, turns out, is quite popular among the American judiciary; I have found 90 quotes in Westlaw-accessible cases, dating back to 1911. The other famous line from the "Rubaiyat," "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou," understandably, is of less legal relevance, and does not appear in court decisions. The closest I could find was a 1940 California case, in which "[t]he deceased was carrying a loaf of bread and a jug of wine" before he met his violent end, and in circumstances that do not indicate any romantic entanglement.

Query how Islamically orthodox the "Rubaiyat," with all its "jug of wine" talk, really is, but as I understand it there have been centuries of debate on the subject. For an alternative "Rubaiyat," also relevant in the modern day, see here.