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Shari‘ah Law and Capitulations Governing the Non-Muslim Foreign Merchants in the Ottoman Empire

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Muslim-non-Muslim relations have a long and checkered history. The concept of Siyar (Muslim code governing international-interfaith relations) developed by early Muslim jurists, provided the legal basis for coexistence with ‘foreignness’ and ‘foreigners. Yet, the classical norms of Siyar were seldom strictly implemented by Muslim rulers. Thus, Capitulations, governing the presence and movement of foreign merchants and diplomats in the Ottoman empire, increasingly broke with the classical norms of Siyar in their successive incarnations. However, there have been few investigations of how the religious establishment’s stance vis-à-vis Capitulations evolved over time. The present study is a modest attempt to fill this gap. The paper departs from essentialist conceptions of Shariah Law, and examines how successive Ottoman jurists interpreted Siyar and accommodated it to the changing political and economic realities. Our investigation bears out the non-essentialist position that Islamic laws have been anchored in empirical realities, pre-Islamic norms, and legalistic traditions.

Affiliations: 1: Center for Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University,; ; 2: Dept. of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University,


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