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image of Islamic Law and Society

This essay investigates the ways in which the notion of "justice" was utilized as a mechanism of political legitimization in the early-modern Ottoman Empire. I claim that there existed alternative definitions of justice and that these were instrumental in the struggle between the central government and those official and unofficial power-holders in the administrative and geographical peripheries of the empire. According to the specialized terminology of the Ottoman administrative system, "justice" was the protection of the rural and urban producers against abuses of the military elite. This definition highlighted the personal benevolence of the ruler who claimed to be the sole protector of the weak against oppression. On the other hand, at least some segments of the ruling elite insisted on representing justice as the recognition of the mutual rights and obligations of the sultan and his "servants." Justice, in this context, referred to the protection of privileges and entitlements of those who were thought to deserve them. While using a variety of sources - including treatises on government and ethics composed by the Ottoman literati, documents from regional court records and correspondence between the imperial center and the officials in the provinces - my primary focus is on Evliya Çelebi's seventeenth-century travel-book, Seyahatname, and a well-known seventeenth century chronicle, Tarih-i Naima.


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