A vibrant account of the practice of Islamic law, this book focuses on the actions of a particular legal official, the muhtasib, whose vast jurisdiction included all public behavior.
In the cities of Cairo and neighboring Fustat during the Mamluk period (1250-1517), the muhtasib is best described as a regulator of markets and public spaces. They traversed the city carrying out their duties to forbid wrongful acts and require mandatory ones, and were as much a part of the legal landscape as the better-known figures of judge and mufti. Taking direction from the rulers, the sultan foremost among them, they were also guided by legal doctrine as formulated by the jurists, combining these two sources of law in one face of authority.
The daily workings of law are illuminated by the reports of the muhtasib in the rich chronicles of the Mamluk period, which also record the responses of the individuals who encountered him. The book is organized around actions taken by the muhtasib in the areas of Muslim devotional and pious practice; crimes and offenses; the management of Christians and Jews; market regulation and consumer protection; the essential bread markets; currency and taxes; and public order. These records show that legal doctrine was clearly relevant to the muhtasib's actions, but the policy demands of the sultan were also very important, and rules from both sources of authority intersected with social, political, economic, and even personal motivating factors and produce the fullest possible picture of the practice of Islamic law.
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Kristen Stilt is Associate Professor in the departments of Law and History at Northwestern University. She holds a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law and a PhD. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. She has been named a Carnegie Scholar for her work on constitutional authority and Islamic law in the Muslim world.
"Islamic Law in Action is a valuable contribution to law and society studies and at
the same time a marvelous introduction to pre-modern Middle Eastern society
generally. By focusing on actual cases, this first comprehensive study of the
muhtasib, the official most intimately involved in the regulation of public life, shows vividly how the actions of ordinary people, the laws of jurists, and the policy dictates of the ruler
were interwoven. Stilt's book is a triple hit, speaking as it does to specialists and
students of Islamic cultures as well as to historians of other world cultures."
--Leslie Peirce, author of Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab
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