State, Society, and Law in Islam

Ottoman Law in Comparative Perspective

By Haim Gerber

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Paperback : 9780791418789, 233 pages, July 1994
Hardcover : 9780791418772, 233 pages, July 1994

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Table of contents


1. The Structure of the Ottoman Legal Process in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

2. The Making of Ottoman Law: The Rise of the Kadi and the Shari'a Court

3. The Fetva in the Legal System

4. The Guilds and Customary Law

5. Patrimonialism and Bureaucracy in the Ottoman Political System

6. Summary and Conclusion


Selected Bibliography



This book explores the legal structure of the Ottoman Empire between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries and examines its association with the Empire's sociopolitical structure. The author's main focus is on the relationship between formal Islamic law and the law as it was actually administered in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Istanbul and its environs.

Using court records, other primary archival documents, and little-used Islamic literature, Gerber establishes for the first time that large bodies of the law were indeed practiced and enforced as law. This refutes the ethnocentric Western view, propagated by Max Weber, that Islamic law was dispensed arbitrarily because of a widening gap between ossified Muslim law and a changing Muslim society. Gerber furthermore integrates his empirical research into a wider theoretical framework adapted from legal and historical-legal anthropology and uses this material as the basis for comparisons between the Ottoman Empire's legal system and other legal systems, most notably that of Morocco. This book shows that although Islamic law as practiced did have to contend with an inviolable sacred core, historical development nevertheless took place that can shed new light on the civilization of Islam.

Haim Gerber is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Islamic Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East and Islam, Guerrilla War, and Revolution: A Study in Comparative Social History.


"This is the first attempt to demonstrate systematically the existence of a largely impersonal, predictable paradigm and a functioning, institutional framework of law in the Ottoman empire. The author is quite successful in his attempt. " — Cemal Kafadar, Harvard University

"The project of this work is very important. The author has read widely in the anthropology of law, not just Islamic studies, and consequently the book is one of the very few works on Islamic law that is grounded in more than merely textual scholarship. It is difficult to overstate the significance of Gerber's findings for legal studies, and for Ottoman studies. " — A. Kevin Reinhart, Dartmouth College