Monday, June 15, 2015

Mongol Impact on Islamic Jurisprudence

One of the more important recent books in Middle East Studies is Guy Burak's The Second Formation of Islamic Law.  From its origins until the period of the Mamluks, Islamic law was a highly flexible body of rulings based on often creative individual application of its principles of jurisprudence to reach what in the eyes of the jurisprudents were appropriate conclusions.  However, the Ottoman dynasty began exercising a tighter control over it, appointing official muftis whose rulings became normative throughout their realm, as well as approving official texts for legal education and reference.

Most of Burak's book is taken up with how this process played out, but in his conclusion he steps back and takes a longer view both chronologically and geographically and argues that the Ottomans were simply one case of a post-Mongol shift in approaches to Islamic jurisprudence.  Burak notes that other Eurasian polities, notably the Mughals, Timurids, and Uzbeks, followed similar Islamic law policies to those of the Ottomans.  He traces this back to Mongol views of Chinggis Khan as a divinely chosen legislator, noting how dynasties which followed the Mongols developed their own legal theories based in part on Mongol ideas.  In the Ottoman case, their shaping of Islamic jurisprudence took place through kanun, or dynastic law, a term similar to and sometimes used interchangeably with the Central Asian tora and yasa.

The origins of the Ottoman Empire are tied to the wreckage of the Mongols as much as the Byzantines, and even though they claimed to have arrived in Anatolia fleeing the Mongols, there is evidence they were actually at one time subservient to the Mongols.  It is also a little-known fact in the West that all male members of the dynasty had the title "sultan" before their names, and which distinguished the actual ruler was the Central Asian title "khan" after it.  My friend Timothy May has written a book on the myriad ways the Mongol conquests changed the Eastern Hemisphere and set the stage for the encounter with the Western.  It wouldn't surprise me if Burak's ideas turned up in a future edition.

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