The Grammars of Adjudication - The economics of judicial decision making in fin-de-siècle Ottoman Beirut and Damascus

Zouhair Ghazzal

Beyrouth, Ifpo, 2007


745 p., index, bibliographie

ISBN 978-2-35159-052-2

Prix : Liban : 25 000 LL / Syrie : 900 LS / Jordanie : 12 DJ / Reste du monde : 20 €





Most studies on Islamic, Arab, and Ottoman societies and civilizations are trapped into the evidentiary role of the texts that researchers have at their disposal, considerably reducing the role of text and language to a mimetic description of what happened. This book argues that an understanding of social relations primarily implies taking into consideration the textual production of society in terms of the meanings that could be ascribed to the texts themselves, and, second, that the analysis of texts, whatever their societal and institutional contexts, should look at its sources as discursive practices, in order not to reduce them to their preliminary role of bearers of factual evidence. Drawing from a large variety of Ottoman “legal” texts from nineteenth-century Beirut and Damascus, this book avoids ascribing such texts to the normative values of “Islamic law,” by documenting instead how various discursive practices concretely operate within a particular terrain. Different levels of practice therefore emerge, all of which documented by the social actors that made their very existence possible.



La plupart des études sur les sociétés islamiques, arabes et ottomanes se contentent du rôle de témoignage que peuvent jouer les textes à disposition des chercheurs, réduisant ainsi le rôle du texte et du langage à une description mimétique des événements passés. Il s’agit ici de montrer que toute compréhension des relations sociales implique, d’abord, de considérer la production textuelle d’une société en interrogeant le sens assignable aux textes eux-mêmes. Elle suppose également que l’analyse des textes, quel que soit leur contexte sociétal et institutionnel, doit considérer ses sources en tant que pratiques discursives, afin de ne pas les réduire à leur fonction préliminaire de témoignage factuel. S’appuyant sur une grande variété de textes « juridiques » ottomans produits à Beyrouth et Damas au XIXe siècle, ce livre évite de lier ces textes aux valeurs normatives du « droit islamique », mais documente au contraire la manière dont des pratiques discursives opèrent concrètement sur un terrain spécifique. Émergent alors différents niveaux de pratiques, toutes documentées par les acteurs sociaux qui ont rendu possible leur existence même.



Tables & Figures

Table of cases


Introduction : Adjudication and judicial decision making as discursive practices

  • The blank point in contemporary historical research
  • Adjudication in light of judicial decision making
  • How court narratives work : the benefits and limits of case analysis
  • Significance of the general rules
  • Organization of the book

Chapter 1 : The discursive origins of the fiqh in light of the mounting fiction of the madhhab

  • Beginnings
  • The coherence of speech and the fiction of an unfolding madhhab
  • The ambiguity of pre-modern discourses
  • “Customary law” and the fiction of legal change
  • Custom within the perspective of law and economics
  • Change with the make-belief that it all conforms to tradition
  • The linguistic roots of custom
  • From customs to fatwâs and beyond
  • The marginalization of law
  • Custom becoming law

Chapter 2 : Repetition and the reaffirmation of the ideal : the enterprise of judging and the "idealization of the absent"

  • The enterprise of judging between cases and texts
  • The procedural fictions conundrum
  • The culture of judges
  • The dîwân of the qâdî and his sijills

Chapter 3 : Why status matters : contractual settlements and property rights in light of their transaction costs

  • The predominance of status contracts in agrarian societies
  • Limitations of Hanafî contracts
  • The economics of contracts
  • What an economics of contracts implies
  • A typical contract of sale
  • A general theory of contracts?
  • Can prices be fair?
  • The language of contracts
  • Bypassing the rigidity of tenancy contracts
  • The benefits of sharecropping
  • Sharing the rent
  • Rent and its self-correcting practices
  • Excursus on marriage
  • Tenancy from the canonical texts to the court practices
  • Towards an objectivism in contractual practices
  • The insidiousness of low rents

Chapter 4 : mourning the past : the thin line bertween ownership and possession

  • Counterfactual juristic discourse
  • Judicial decision making and procedural fictions
  • The self-transcending power of discourse
  • Looking for signs of landownership: the ambiguities of rent and tax
  • Genealogy of a legal fiction
  • Keeping one’s hand over a property
  • Rebutting a case
  • Interpreting the past : “feudal” variations

Chapter 5 : the ethnography of court documents : the transfer of property to women I

  • The Maronitism of the Shihâbs
  • Maronite law
  • Representations of non-Muslims
  • Family disputes
  • The wives of Bashîr II
  • Women, property, and murder
  • The litigants and their representatives
  • The “debt”
  • The inheritance
  • Analysis and syntax
  • The outside
  • Two litigations into one single case
  • A specific ruling
  • Unchallenged narratives

Chapter 6 : waqfs as contractual settlements : the transfer of property to women II

  • The economics of waqfs
  • Validating waqfs through routinized procedural fictions
  • The origins of the “three-founders” technique
  • Debts, contracts, and the status of waqfs

Chapter 7 : Fatwâs at the rescue of hard cases

  • Unlawful usurpation and property restitution
  • How fatwâs work
  • Excursus: English common law

Chapter 8 : The language of judges and the performance of speech acts

  • The grammars of waqfs
  • A ratio decidendi?
  • What the founder said
  • Property rights versus contractual rights
  • The grammars of “privacy” and filiations
  • An older case
  • Property claims and rights
  • A legitimate narrative
  • The use of language
  • How “cases” are constructed
  • Status and authority of the text

Chapter 9 : Judicial policy making and the politics of the regional councils

  • A plea for mercy
  • Family intrigues
  • Which labor laws?
  • When courts and councils met

Chapter 10 : Hanafî practice and sultanic ordinances : Which normative rules did finally prevail ?

  • Usury without name
  • The technique of equalization

Chapter 11 : The phantom of the victim and the triangle of debt

  • Fiction is the perfect crime
  • The tool-of-killing as corpus delicti
  • Findings of fact
  • The body, its parts, and their value
  • Weapon determines intent
  • Value of the body and its parts
  • Kinship settlements
  • Blood-money payments
  • The perfect crime
  • Pre-trial settlements
  • Crime settlements metamorphosing into contracts
  • The murderous triangle and the cycle of debt
  • Hard cases
  • The murderer, his kin, and blood money
  • The victim vanished
  • The “public” jurisdiction of the regional councils over criminal procedures
  • The economics of crime
  • The objectivism—or formalism—in decision making
  • The phantom of the victim and the cycle of debt

Epilogue : Society as texte : the infernal cycle of credit and debt

Appendix 1 : Structure of Ibn 'Abidîn's radd

Appendix 2 : Ibn ‘Abidîn's epistles


Bibliographical essay