A Common Justice

A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Common Justice
    Book Description:

    InA Common JusticeUriel I. Simonsohn examines the legislative response of Christian and Jewish religious elites to the problem posed by the appeal of their coreligionists to judicial authorities outside their communities. Focusing on the late seventh to early eleventh centuries in the region between Iraq in the east and present-day Tunisia in the west, Simonsohn explores the multiplicity of judicial systems that coexisted under early Islam to reveal a complex array of social obligations that connected individuals across confessional boundaries. By examining the incentives for appeal to external judicial institutions on the one hand and the response of minority confessional elites on the other, the study fundamentally alters our conception of the social history of the Near East in the early Islamic period.

    Contrary to the prevalent scholarly notion of a rigid social setting strictly demarcated along confessional lines, Simonsohn's comparative study of Christian and Jewish legal behavior under early Muslim rule exposes a considerable degree of fluidity across communal boundaries. This seeming disregard for religious affiliations threatened to undermine the position of traditional religious elites; in response, they acted vigorously to reinforce communal boundaries, censuring recourse to external judicial institutions and even threatening transgressors with excommunication.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0506-0
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The fragmentary remains of Christian and Jewish legal documents composed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first five hundred years of Islamic rule reveal that Christian and Jewish religious elites were preoccupied with the fact that their coreligionists were taking legal cases outside the community for litigation in what appear to have been primarily Islamic courts. This book examines the legislative response of Christian and Jewish religious elites to the problem posed by the appeal of their coreligionists to extra-confessional judicial institutions. Focusing on the late seventh through the early eleventh century in the region between Mesopotamia in the east...

    • CHAPTER 1 A Late Antique Legacy of Legal Pluralism
      (pp. 25-62)

      The present chapter is primarily a survey of the various judicial institutions that were available under late Roman and Sasanian rule, from the late fourth century a.d. to the Arab conquest. The function of this survey is to set the stage for subsequent chapters, which deal with the early Islamic period; it will also serve to establish that a trend of multiple, overlapping legal orders was not unique to the period following the Islamic conquest but characterized Near Eastern late antique societies from early on. A consideration of the various judicial possibilities that were available to the subjects of the...

    • CHAPTER 2 Islam’s Judicial Bazaar
      (pp. 63-90)

      It is possible that this passage, taken from ‘Umāra ibn Wathīma’s (d. 902) ninth-century collection of prophetic tales (Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ), reflects the author’s understanding of biblical judicial arrangements in his own contemporary terms.² The choice between several judicial figures provides the setting for the pseudo-biblical narrative. As early as the seventh century, Muslim officials, includingqāḍīs, police officials, market overseers, and governors fulfilled a judicial role, in a way that exhibited a plurality of overlapping judicial authorities. This feature of Islamic judicial practices was continuous with the practices of the pre-Islamic period and, as such, was the target of later...

    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 91-98)

      The previous chapters examined some of the features of judicial practices in the pre-Islamic Near East and Mediterranean Basin, as well as their endurance under Islamic rule. Similar to its Roman and Sasanian predecessors, the young Islamic government had to come to terms with a state of legal pluralism. Under all three regimes, local elites were empowered to assert authority and collectively offer a legal setting characterized by plurality and diversity. In such a setting, the individual was afforded choice and, in turn, an advantageous position when settling or validating legal affairs.

      Whatever particular form it assumed, judicial authority meant...

    • CHAPTER 3 Eastern Christian Judicial Authorities in the Early Islamic Period
      (pp. 99-119)

      As we have seen, the attempt to reconstruct the structure and practice of Near Eastern judicial institutions in the period under discussion can yield only partial results. The case of the Eastern churches is no exception in this respect.¹ The underlying assumption of the following examination is that since the ecclesiastical judiciary was an integral part of church administration, the question of its survival, status, and efficiency pertains to that of the ecclesiastical administration in general. This broad examination is followed by an outline of some basic principles of the ecclesiastical judiciary as they appear in ecclesiastical legal literature. Our...

    • CHAPTER 4 Rabbanite Judicial Authorities in the Late Geonic Period
      (pp. 120-146)

      To an extent, the appearance of Jews before Islamic courts tends to marginalize the fact that within the rabbinic order itself, judicial institutions also differed. Our upcoming examination, in Chapter 6, of the attitudes of the Babylonian geonim toward the phenomenon of Jewish recourse to Islamic courts demands preliminary remarks regarding such internal differences. The complex and decentralized character of the rabbinic judiciary, we shall argue in the present chapter, corresponded to that of contemporary circles of rabbinic authority. Proceeding from the assumption that confessional judicial institutions formed part of a broader communal structure, this chapter begins with an overview...

    • CHAPTER 5 Christian Recourse to Nonecclesiastical Judicial Institutions
      (pp. 147-173)

      A papyrus from the town of al-Ushmūnayn in central Egypt, dated around the beginning of the tenth century, records the appeal of two Christian residents of al-Rayramūn to an Islamic court. In it, the litigants express their explicit wish to be judged according to Islamic law (bi-muqtadhā al-shar‘ al-sharīf).¹ Such occurrences of Christian recourse to extra-ecclesiastical courts were not uncommon, as is confirmed in the contents of ecclesiastical legal collections and canon laws issued at individual synods in the period following the Islamic conquest.² But the reasons for this widespread phenomenon, as well as its diverse character, stand to shed...

    • CHAPTER 6 Jewish Recourse to Islamic Courts
      (pp. 174-204)

      In a letter dating from 1030 by the Palestinian gaon Shelomo ben Yehuda, the gaon listed a series of Karaite allegations against the Rabbanites. Interestingly, instead of refuting these allegations, the gaon’s principal line of defense was the claim that the Rabbanites should not be held solely responsible for these violations because such acts were committed by Karaites as well.¹ The gaon expressed his distress over the ineffectiveness of the practice of excommunicating those who sought judgment in Islamic courts: “We excommunicate those who violate God’s Sabbath! [Yet] the majority violate it; for who keeps the Sabbath as it should...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-215)

    In the responsum above, Sherira Gaon addresses the members of a North African community, regarding certain scholars who “dispute and speak against the geonim.”¹ Rather than explicitly identify those who challenged geonic authority, the gaon chooses to highlight their incompetence and ignorance. It is in contrast to such faults that the geonim, heirs of the ancient rabbinic oral tradition, were able to claim exclusive legal authority. Claims of this sort were made against a background of legal decentralization, exhibited through the local inclinations of regional communities in general and those outside thereshutin particular.

    It is here, too, that...

  8. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 216-217)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 218-262)
    (pp. 263-292)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 293-304)
    (pp. 305-306)