Starting from Wael Hallaq’s position that Islamic tradition is not frozen in time and that gates of ijtihad were never closed, Prof. Mandaville used the shurut literature, which came to be known as sukuknamehler genre in the Ottoman times, to highlight and further develop the same point. According to Mandaville, the shurut and sukuk literature proves that change and accommodation developed within the Shari’a body of knowledge over time.
The shurut books were texts that showed how to write legal court cases in proper legal language. In short, they were the works of judges, lawyers, and legal scribes. Up until the 15th century CE, this genre was known as ‘ilm al-shurut, but after the 16th century CE – and under the Ottoman influence – it was renamed as ‘ilm al-sukuk.
Prof. Mandaville then turned to discussing several prominent Ottoman writers in the field of ‘ilm al-sukuk, the foremost among them being Ebu Su’ud Efendi (d.1574 CE), the Grand Mufti of Shaykh al-Islam under the Sultan Sulayman al-Qanuni (the Magnificent, as he is known in the West). Ebu Su’ud wrote that anyone writing judicial entries and writing needed four abilities: (1) knowledge of Arabic, (2) knowledge of Arabic syntax, (3) knowledge of inflection, and (4) knowledge of the Shari’ah. During this period, there was an introduction of the qanun (statute) law, which had to be harmonized with the Shari’ah. This was the main task of shaykh al-Islam. By the 16th century CE, the Ottomans developed a highly bureaucratic system to administer the Empire, which led to further expansion in the sukuk genre.
This genre of literature was very influential and relevant. It was used widely, especially by court secretaries. Sukuknamehler shows that the Shari’ah needed to expand and adapt. The Ottoman record when it comes to this issue is a clear example of this phenomenon, i.e. adaptability and expansion of the Shari’ah. The Ottomans, therefore, made three major adjustments to the shurut literature: (1) language shifted from Arabic to Turkish, (2) the Shari’a court included for the first time qanun or statute law, (3) increased bureaucratic state led to sukuknameh.
There are important implications to be found in expansion and adaptability of the Shari’ah for constitutional debates on the role of the Shari’ah in many Muslim countries, including those that are undergoing through recent Uprisings.
The discussion which followed the lecture covered various issues, including the Ottoman influence on the West, adaptability of the Shari’ah, madhahib (schools of Islamic jurisprudence), questions of legal reform, application of the Shari’ah in modern times, and ijtihad.
Professor Mandaville grew up in an oil camp in Saudi Arabia, and attended high school in Beirut, Lebanon. After obtaining his BA in History at Dartmouth College in 1959, He went on for graduate studies first at the University of Edinburgh for a Diploma in Islamic Studies in 1961 and then to Princeton, where he obtained his doctorate in History and Near Eastern Studies in 1969. He is presently Professor Emeritus at Portland State University in the History Department and Middle East Studies Center. An Ottomanist, his research and publications have been focused on the social and legal history of the Middle East since 1500 with special emphasis on the Arab world. He travels throughout the Middle East, most often these days to Saudi Arabia. Each year he teaches an advanced course on the modern history of the Arabian Peninsula, a course on Palestine and Israel, and one on the history of modern Iraq. He is President of North American Association of Islamic and Muslim Studies (NAAIMS, formerly AMSS).