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Islamic Law materialized: Arabic legal documents (8th to 15th century) (ILM)

GoTriple's project summary

The project examines edited and unedited Arabic legal documents from a new comparative perspective. Documents, immediate manifestations of legal practice, were instruments to assure subjective rights of persons for whom the copy had been issued. Most studies on early Islamic legal practice however focus on literary sources (notarial manuals, responsae, juridical treaties) and neglect documents mainly for two reasons: 1) cursive handwriting and technical language render their deciphering difficult; 2) the existing collections come from various provenances which hindered until now a synthetic analysis. This project inverses the focus with a new historical perspective: Thanks to its innovative full text database (CALD) that analyses documents by functional components and sequence-patterns, the project reveals relevant variations in structure and juridical clauses among many documents, in great detail and from multiple aspects. Even if existing studies on specimens from various regions establish a general conformity of these documents with Islamic law, the PI s analysis of the 14th-century Jerusalem corpus illustrated, for the first time, how private notarisation (of legal transactions) and court documents (with judicial elements) were used complementary to apply the complex rules of Islamic procedural law. The CALD-database facilitates comparing and deciphering legal documents. The research group will use this methodology with three under-examined corpuses from al-Andalus, Egypt and Palestine from the 13th to the 15th century, and compare these to other edited documents from Central Asia, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Muslim Spain (8th-15th centuries). This approach aims to a) develop a sophisticated typology of legal documents and their components, b) compare various notarial practices as expression of applied Islamic law, guaranteed by judicial institutions, which leads to c) pre-modern Islamic law as a uniform reference system within multi-faceted legal systems.

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