5. Panel 3: Countering the Main Arguments of Decline
Giancarlo Casale, University of Minnesota
Gabor Agoston, Georgetown University
Baki Tezcan, University of California, Davis
Himmet Taskomur, Harvard University
Giancarlo Casale Presentation Summary
Prof. Casale provided a segue between the world historians’ presentations and what followed from the specialists. His presentation centered on two touchstones in the grand narratives of both Western and Islamic civilization.
He began by explaining that In the traditional narrative of “Islamic Civilization” the caliphate plays a central role in the construction of a golden age and decline—the golden age being closely associated with the Caliphate’s period of greatest political integration, and decline being linked to the subsequent disintegration of the caliphate and its eventual demise at the hands of the Mongols. Some centuries later, the Ottoman sultan became associated with the caliphate, and continued to be so until the end of the Ottoman empire in the early twentieth century. But there is great disagreement about the line of transmission: some historians insisting on a direct and continuous “transfer of the caliphate” from the Abbasids upon the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, others asserting that the Ottoman caliphate was a modern innovation with little basis in history prior to the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, in the grand narrative of “Western Civ” it is the Age of Exploration that serves as the critical lynchpin, marking the historical moment in which European history becomes world history. Europeans encountered the world, explored the world, and then conquered the world, bringing their models of government, their economic systems, and their intellectual traditions to others as a template for modernity. This presents a fundamental problem for world historians devoted to developing non-Eurocentric paradigms of global integration, because there is no way around the fact that Europeans were the first to encircle the globe, ushering in conquest, colonization and other manifestations of western dominance.
Having explained the historiographical problems presented by the caliphate and the Age of Exploration, Prof. Casale then proposed bringing the two narratives together in a productive and useful way. He began by showing the image of a medallion coined for Phillip II of Spain that commemorated the unification in 1581 of the Spanish and Portuguese empires under his rule. It contains the motto is: “The world is not enough,” symbolizing the inexorable drive behind the Age of Exploration that he termed “the dialectic of universal sovereignty.”
Casale then outlined three essential components of this phenomenon: The first was a new geographic understanding of the world as a globe, a space that was now recognized for the first time as finite. The second was a realization that, as a finite space, the globe itself was now a legitimate object of political ambition—a realization that led to a fundamental change in the meaning of “universal sovereignty,” and the development of new ideologies of empire directed toward the project of political control of the globe. Finally, this new geographical consciousness, combined with these new ideologies of empire, enabled a new kind of political agency, by means of which Europeans were actually able to mobilize resources and coordinate activity on a scale necessary to found world-encompassing overseas empires. But crucially, it was the geographical consciousness and the political ideology that were necessary preconditions of action—not the reverse. This is perhaps best exemplified by the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, in which Spain and Portugal agreed to divide the world between them, granting Portugal domination of the eastern and Spain the western hemisphere. At the time, neither power controlled a single inch of territory anywhere in Asia or the New World. But the agreement nevertheless led to the founding of two world empires within just a generation.
From the perspective of world history, however, we are still left with a basic question: Was this new, finite concept of universal sovereignty, of such fundamental importance to early Western expansion, unique to Europeans, or something historians can apply more broadly during the period to the Islamic world as well?
To answer this question, Prof. Casale turned to the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. There, as he argued, the Portuguese king claimed, in theory, to be “Lord of the Navigation and Commerce” of the entire region. But in practice, the Portuguese expressed this claim by preventing Muslim merchants and pilgrims of the Indian Ocean from entering the the Red Sea, so as to control the important trade route to and from Egypt and to restrict the hajj. As a result, for first time in history there was a non-Muslim power in the Indian Ocean that made it impossible for Muslims to travel by sea to Mecca and Medina.
Prof. Casale explained that it was from this starting point—an ideologically driven Portuguese action that necessarily provoked a Muslim counter reaction—that we can trace the beginning of what he called the “dialectic of the universal sovereign.”
To begin with, Muslims of the Indian Ocean responded to this aggression by casting around for an ideology that would help them defend themselves from Portuguese actions. This led them to revive the concept of “the caliphate,” a long moribund institution, led by a “caliph” responsible for defending and protecting the faith and its adherents against all outside threats. Less clear, however, was who this caliph might be. One possibility was the ruler of whichever power had territorial control of Makkah and Medina and, consequently, the title of “Protector of the Holy Cities”—a status enjoyed, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, by the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt. But soon thereafter, in 1517, the Mamluks were overthrown, and control of the holy cities passed to the Ottomans. When this happened, although the Ottomans themselves may not have been immediately aware of it, the association of the caliphate with the Ottoman sultan permanently took root among the Muslims of the Indian Ocean.
From the Ottoman perspective, this presented both a huge challenge and an enormous opportunity. On the one hand, because the title of “caliph” implied that the sultan was responsible for protecting the well-being of Muslims everywhere, failure would mean loss of legitimacy. Theoretically, the Sultan’s prestige could thus be undermined because of a failure to protect people who lived thousands of miles outside of the territory he controlled—even in places unknown to him. On the other hand, if he could find some way protect the interests of these people, then the ideology of universal sovereignty promised to turn all of those people into an international constituency of loyal subjects, allowing the sultan to mobilize people and resources on a global scale that would otherwise be unimaginable.
Over the course of the sixteenth century, Casale argued, the Ottomans became quite adept at using this to their advantage, by constructing a vast “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean that reached its apex in the 1560s. To illustrate this point, he showed two maps depicting the extent of Ottoman diplomatic involvement with various Muslim constituencies in the Indian Ocean, and the military activity that resulted from their alliances. The first map showed a series of crescents indicating the places in the Indian Ocean where the Sultan’s name was read in the Friday Khutba—all situated along the main maritime hajj routes in a line connecting the Arabian peninsula with the Maldives, South Asia, Ceylon, and Southeast Asia. The second map showed the resulting military activity that was coordinated through this network—with “battle stars” showing places where there was a military encounter between the Portuguese and local Muslims with support from the Ottoman sultan’s forces.
As he explained these maps, Casale emphasized the extensiveness of this military and political coordination—carried out across such an expansive geographic range that it would have been inconceivable before the sixteenth century. And this, in turn, presents a fundamental challenge to the idea that the rise and fall of empires is a “zero-sum game,” in which the “Rise of the West” necessarily implies the decline of Islam. Instead, Casale’s research demonstrates that the Ottomans’ massive, hemispheric imperial project, predicated on the revival of the “Universal Caliphate,” was only possible because the Portuguese had first staked a rival ideological claim against which the Ottomans could present themselves as champions. Indeed, according to Casale’s analysis, it was the Ottomans who were ultimately successful in forcing the Portuguese to stop trying to control trade in the Indian Ocean, and to allow the Muslim maritime pilgrimage routes to once more flow unobstructed. But ironically, once this was accomplished, it deprived the Ottoman sultanate of the ideological leverage of the Portuguese, rendering their own imperial project untenable. Thus, it was more akin to a mutually dependent relationship, rather than a zero-sum game.
Moreover, the concept of “dialectic” is useful because this notion of universal sovereignty had a life of its own even after the Ottomans and the Portuguese were no longer in the picture. As the Ottomans developed these rival claims to universal sovereignty, other Muslim powers developed their own, new ideological elaborations of universal rulership within this newly understood, finite global context, and eventually those bumped up against each other.
To demonstrate this, Casale ended his presentation with the famous Mughal painting commemorating the peace treaty between the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and the Persian Shah Abbas, in which the two sovereigns embrace while standing on top of a European-style globe. This iconic illustration shows how new idea of the globe as a finite space, as a legitimate object of political ambition, was also a concept that by the early seventeenth century served as a backdrop for even local forms of political competition that now had nothing to do with either the Portuguese or the Ottomans.
Casale concluded by suggesting that there is a direct line between the kind of concretized universal sovereignty depicted in this painting, and the political formation that many historians would consider the end-game of modernity—the modern nation-state system, in which the world’s territory is divided up into mutually exclusive, theoretically equivalent nation-states that in their totality define human political existence. Casale argued that if we really want to understand how we got to that place, then we need to deal seriously with the early modern as a world historical concept, and not simply as the product of Western history. That requires a concept of early modernity that is does not simply involve the “contributions” of Islam, but that is itself produced out of the interactions between Europeans, Muslims, and others in a dialectically productive relationship.
Gabor Agoston Presentation Summary
In the 1980s and 1990s one of the major paradigms in warfare studies was the military revolution debate. The theory of a military revolution attempted to explain the rise of absolutist states and the rise of the west as a whole, as well as the decline of the rest. When reading these European studies, Prof. Agoston said he was struck that the Ottomans, who were one of the strongest military powers in the sixteenth seventeenth centuries, were relegated into the background of the debate. He encountered the following major theories related to Ottoman military power and prowess: Islamic conservatism and military despotism militated against borrowing Western techniques and against native inventiveness, and continued dependence on Western technology and know-how in the form of European cannon-founders and technicians; that the Ottomans suffered from technical inferiority in spite of borrowing western techniques; the lack of secure property and intellectual property law was is supposed to have hindered advances in mining technology; they are said to have lacked the necessary knowledge and manufacturing capacity to produce effective and sufficient weapons.
This theory abounds in western textbooks, despite its flaws. First, the theories are monocausal, trying to explain complex processes such as the adoption and adaptation of weapons technologies with a single factor. They neglect social and economic context. They attribute to technology a much greater role than it actually played in pre-industrial warfare. Agoston asserts that technology didn’t really affect warfare until weapons were standardized in the nineteenth century. Technical inventiveness was overemphasized, while the quantity of armaments was more important than their quality. The assumptions behind these theories are based on selective and atypical evidence that have been proven in recent years to be factually wrong. Agoston has criticized these points in his archival research and demonstrated that the Ottomans created the necessary organization and financial framework to ensure prompt and efficient production and supply of ammunition and sufficient supply of weaponry early in their history. The ability of central and local administration to adjust them according to the social and economic conditions allowed the Ottomans to achieve self-sufficiency in armaments production and to maintain it for centuries, in some areas well into the eighteenth century.
The Ottomans’ continued use of non-gunpowder weapons was perhaps widespread, but religion played barely any role in that decision. Muslim states adjusted their weapons and techniques to that of their enemies with relative ease and did not hesitate to adopt new weapons and techniques when faced with enemies equipped with those weapons. The history of diffusion demonstrates that the contribution of European technicians to Ottoman military arms industry and weapons technology should not be exaggerated. Inviting and employing foreign technicians was the prime means throughout Europe to acquire new technology, and was not unique to the Ottomans. The assistance of craftsmen considered to be on the cutting edge at a certain point in time was inevitable. The Ottomans were no exception, and took part in this exchange of early modern weapons technology of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The Ottomans were in an ideal position for technological diffusion, with Istanbul/Constantinople in the latter fifteenth and sixteenth century a hub like NYC today. In the sixteenth century, after Venice, Rome, and Madrid, Istanbul was a major center of international politics, espionage, information gathering, and diplomacy. People went there to sell their expertise and share knowledge; miners from Serbia, Bosnia, Greece, and Asia Minor brought their knowledge of metallurgy, whereas Muslim blacksmiths from the Islamic east manufactured the famous Damascus blades. Miners, sappers, and gun founders from Germany, eastern Europe, France, England and the Netherlands came there. Dalmatian and Greek shipwrights were involved in a technical dialogue. There was no iron curtain in the Mediterranean in the early modern world. It is difficult to understand how serious historians could state the opposite.
For the sixteenth century, it is one thing to question these Orientalist & Eurocentric biases, but it is another to offer an alternative narrative, as Prof. Agoston did in the second part of his lecture. His research asked what happened to the Ottomans to undermine their military prowess, not “what went wrong.” By the eighteenth century, the Ottomans were defeated by the Habsburgs and by the Russians. Instead of accepting the received chronology of decline or accepting that the western divergence appeared right after the conquest of Constantinople, there must be another explanation. Supposedly the Ottomans were so mesmerized by huge cannons that they continued to cast huge cannons while the Europeans cast smaller, more mobile cannon. According to Agoston’s research, this claim is untrue, based only on the accounts of European travelers to Istanbul and the Dardanelles and who knew nothing about cannon casting. The source for the composition of Ottoman artillery is not travelers but the account books of the Ottoman Imperial Cannon Foundry or Topane,. Agoston compiled figures on how many cannons and what kind of cannons were cast, and these figures were compared to the European cannons to discover that the figures are no different in each case. So the theory about Ottoman giant (and obsolete) cannons is unfounded.
To discover what happened by the end of the eighteenth century, in contrast, Agoston suggests that it is necessary to study the rise of Europe eastern powers—the Ottoman, Hapsburg, and Russian Empires. In the Habsburg case, they reformed their military in the sixteenth century partly in response to Ottoman military and firepower superiority . What matters is that both Muscovy and the Austrian Habsburgs reacted to Ottoman military power, and in the case of Muscovy, also to the Tatar challenge in the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth century. Both Muscovy and the Ottomans had their time of troubles and revolts, and both empires were exposed to new types of Western military technologies—the Ottomans on the Hungarian frontier, and in the case of Muscovy, Swedish, Polish and Lithuanian forces. He asserted that they responded differently. The Muscovites moved toward a more centralized military and eventually discarded the cavalry going for a new model army, using Western-type formations. In the Ottoman case, a decentralization took place, meaning that the center’s access to and control over resources was much more limited. Whereas in the middle of the sixteenth century, the center had controlled almost 60% of tax revenues, by the 1660s this figure had dropped to 24%. There was no major population boom in the Ottoman empire, but Russia expanded in terms of population. The Russians also adopted conscription. Whereas in the sixteenth century, the two empires’ capability to mobilize armies was comparable, by the mid-eighteenth century the Russians could mobilize a military potential that was three times what the Ottoman Empire could mobilize. Comparison of revenues gives a similar result, although the divergence did not occur until the eighteenth century. In the 1740s the revenues of the two empires were comparable, but by the 1780s, Russian revenues were seven-fold those of the Ottomans, and by 1795, they were 10-fold if the conversion of the currency into tons of silver is accurate, noting that Pamuk’s figures differ somewhat on the conversion.
From a regional standpoint, in this whole realm there are responses to challenges but the responses led to different results. The Russians evolved into an absolutist , or fiscal-military state, whereas the Ottomans went through a devolution of power, or using Baki Tezcan’s terminology, the Ottomans became a limited monarchy whose access to resources was also limited. The responses led to two different types of state, which eventually led to differing military capabilities and power. Whereas the Muscovites reformed along Western lines, the sultan needed to rely on an available source-the Ayans or local notables. Agoston suggested that the Ayans were part of this military devolution and that the question of Ottoman decentralization could be explained in the wider context of military devolution and the military contractor and military entrepreneur. The contract system was an effective way to maintain a military capacity that far exceeded the sultan’s direct access to resources. Agoston concluded by posing the question of whether the ad hoc measures that eventually led to devolution were introduced because Istanbul had to fight rivals—especially Russia—which had more access to human and military resources than Istanbul, and thus had greater military capacity.
Baki Tezcan Presentation Summary
Prof. Tezcan began by asking, “Did it decline or did it not decline, that is the question, or is it really?” Historians of the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East have been arguing against the decline paradigm for more than 35 years now, and it was declared a myth 15 years ago, yet we are still here countering its main arguments. Historians of the region have failed to produce a model as attractive to non-specialists as decline. Prof. Tezcan joined Prof. Voll in suggesting that we simply put forward our own model. Acknowledging recent developments in South Asian historiography that shift the discourse from rise and decline with a focus on empires, instead train the focus on socio-economic and cultural transformations. In other words, shift from Ottoman Empire to Ottoman society.
It would be futile to deny that the Ottoman Empire did not lose territory or suffer decline in its ability to fight. Queen Elizabeth I sought an alliance with the Ottoman Empire against the Spanish in the sixteenth century; had there been a UN Security Council then, the Ottomans would have been a permanent member. By the 1880s, things had changed, with Europeans collecting taxes in the Ottoman Empire and directly transferring funds to Ottoman creditors. The empire’s international standing had indeed declined.
The focus on society might circumvent the decline concept . It could make a positive contribution to western historiography in terms of thinking about the non-West in the early modern period as a real player in world history rather than as a spectator, whose only contribution was to adapt Western models. As suggested in Prof. Tezcan’s responses to the Forum Questions, it is possible to narrate early modern Ottoman history as a period of social mobility. Rather than engaging with the decline paradigm to refute it as a whole, it can be marginalized by suggesting a different viewing angle.
Taking inspiration from various historians, including Cemal Kafadar and Engin Akarli, Tezcan argued that the Ottoman polity underwent profound transformation in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—a transformation so profound that it deserves to be called the second empire, replacing the patrimonial Ottoman Empire so closely associated with the reign of Sulayman the Magnificent (1520-1566 CE). This formation called the second empire was marked administratively by an early modern state as opposed to a medieval dynastic institution, culturally by an early modern sensibility, economically by a relatively more market oriented economy, and legally by a more unified legal system that came to exert some authority over the dynasty. Monetarily, it had a relatively more unified currency. Politically, it had developed a type of limited government that grew out of the interaction between legal processes that might be called “civil”-ization, and proto-democratization. Socially, it was marked by a relatively less stratified society. For Tezcan, the term proto-democracy refers to the process by which a much larger segment of the imperial administration came to consist of men formerly known as “outsiders” (ajnaby) to previous elites dominated by the military slaves of the emperor. Men involved in civilian areas took on new roles, replacing the Mamluks, and in doing so “civilianized” the empire.
He argued that the sixteenth century was marked by the monetization of the empire, a process that furthered the social standing of those who benefitted from this process, such as merchants and financiers. Monetization resulted in political empowerment, the rising political profile of jurists’ law, based on the shari’ah, which at times challenged the imperial qanun. Empowerment of the shari’ah and its interpreters was not a symptom of decline or a result of conservatism, but an outcome of the society becoming more market-oriented.
The age of the second empire was marked by two related developments. One was the expansion of the political nation—the tension that developed between old and new elites. The other was re-configuration of the dynasty’s role within the expanding political nation. These developments created two positions Tezcan labeled absolutist and constitutionalist. No Ottoman man or woman would have used these terms, but it is possible to identify these two distinct political positions in late sixteenth and seventeenth century with regard to the Sultan’s authority and its limits. The absolutist position was based on public law, on the functioning of the Ottoman sovereign order subject to no restrictions, while the constitutionalist position was built upon the denial of such an indefinite source of authority to the Sultan. “Constitutionalism” aimed at limiting royal prerogatives by expanding the power of the law.
Expansion of the political nation did not place every newcomer into the same political space. Some upwardly mobile commoners entered the provincial political elite, as so many did in the late sixteenth century, leading to the well known Jalali Rebellions. Others entered the elite who were entrenched in the imperial capital, as many others did at the same time, leading to inflation of the group that served the imperial apparatus. Both groups sought to ensure the confirmation of their political status and engaged in a struggle to obtain that end. The relative monetization of the economy in the late fifteenth and sixteenth century made it possible for such merchants and financiers to buy their way into the elites, and forced existing elites to form alliances with them, or take an active stance against them. The political struggle took place on the boundaries of royal authority between old and new elites. One’s place in relation to the political divide between the absolutist and constitutionalist positions was determined by one’s answer to the question of who had the authority to determine the fundamentals of public law: the Sultan who had laid down a constitution for eternity, or the jurists. Those who would benefit from a powerful court pushed to extend the reach of royal authority deep into the domain of public law. Those supporting jurists’ law and its political empowerment were lords of the law, the mawali, who prepared the ground for the increasing intervention of jurist’s law in the affairs of the Ottoman dynasty during the sixteenth century.
The economic transformation in the fifteenth and sixteenth century impacted the political configuration of the Ottoman Empire. In the feudal system, the object of power was domination of land through the military from the peasants at the bottom to the monarch at the top. While land remained important, gradual development of a market society shifted the primary focus of political power toward the control of monetary resources through a network of patron-client relationships in a web-like structure without a single center. The political actors—the constitutionalists—wanted to place the monarch at the symbolic center, but without power. The absolutists wanted to leave the sultan in control of the spinning the web. The Ottoman sultanate responded to efforts to limit its authority as well as it could.
The sultanate had managed to transform the feudal order of the formative period of the Ottoman Empire between lord and vassals into patrimonial relations between the emperor and his slaves. Senior slaves also transferred political power from the sultan’s hands into their own, by means of the developing market economy. In response, the emperor empowered court officers who never before had political power, such as chief eunuch or chief gardener. A new generation of viziers who were court creatures without autonomous power centers emerged, but Ottoman absolutism couldn’t withstand the power of the Janissaries, who changed themselves into a corporation with serious investments in crafts and trades with middle and lower class members. When Janissaries learned to forge alliances with jurists, they could depose or even murder the sultans and enthrone new ones.
Regicides of the long seventeenth century—the sultan’s murder at the hands of his own slaves—opened fissures among the sultan, his household, and his dominion: the imperial political structure constructed by Mehmet and perfected by Suleyman which had grown out of the feudal political practices of the formative period. In the late sixteenth century, the sultanate began to lose agency in selecting his slaves, and the ajnaby (foreigners) entered this political organization. The seventeenth century regicides resulted in the sultan’s slaves selecting their master; the sultan lost control of his household and hence his empire.
Thus, argued Tezcan, the decline narrative might be replaced by focus on socio-economic transformations, highlighting development of what Sir James Porter (1747-1762) called “a species of limited monarchy.” Tezcan calls this the second Ottoman Empire. The fact that the region we came to call the Middle East, corresponding roughly to the Ottoman Empire, had a foundation of limited government even before the founding of the United States has obvious implications for rewriting the history of this region in the wake of recent developments.
I leave the audience with the implications of the fact that the region we came to call the Middle East, which corresponds roughly to the Ottoman Empire, had a foundation of limited government even before the founding of the United States. Emphasizing this tradition of limited government should also have obvious implications for the rewriting of history of the Middle East in the wake of recent developments. Let me conclude with a disclaimer. I am not suggesting that the Ottoman Empire did not decline, nor that the decline can be explained by citing Ottoman authoritarianism in response to European colonialism and the rise of nationalism. Both developments are important to understanding what led to the end of the Ottoman Empire.
In the second empire, however, there was progress in many spheres of life, such as easing of a relatively rigid system of social mobility in imperial structures. In other spheres movement was not so positive, such as the military and the production of knowledge. Social and political progress and the limitation of royal authority was related to setbacks in military and scientific progress. Expansion of the power of new groups proved hazardous to imperial military power and resulted in territorial losses. Empowerment of jurists and their laws contributed to the gradual limits on royal power and created setbacks in scientific innovation. The ulama’ focused more and more on law, and less on other fields of knowledge. Legalistic thought laid claim to truth. Jurists became more juridical than scholarly, and while this led to proto-democratic, limited monarchy, it may have stifled other forms of intellectual inquiry among this group of elites.
Himmet Taskomur Presentation Summary
As a legal historian of the late medieval and early modern period, Prof. Taskomur observed certain divergences in this period. From a disciplinary standpoint, there seemed to be no room to accommodate fiqh literature in the field of historical inquiry as opposed to the field of theology. Taskomur noted that fiqh has been studied as an aspect of “Islamic law” similar to that described by Prof. Necipoglu in “Islamic art.” According to this discourse, the schools of law, whether Sunni or Shi’i, are reduced to “Islamic Law.” It is parallel to the essentialist, timeless idea of “Islamic Art.”
This discourse on the history of fiqh is based on two concepts—ijtihad and taqlid—without going into historicity and theoretical debates. Disciplinary debate was about whether jurists in a particular period carried out ijtihad or practiced taqlid, reading the all of legal history through these two terms. The second problem was reading the history of fiqh as a linear narrative, originating in Makkah and Madinah moving on to Damascus, then Baghdad, and on to the present day. This reading disregards a multi-polar legal tradition of complex scholarship that has changed throughout Islamic history, in addition to its associated regional histories. The third problem is the failure to look at the social and other contexts in which of theories and opinions came to be held, how deliberations and debates played out within a particular tradition. Prof. Taskomur reminded the audience that Islamic law did not follow a single linear story line. Historical studies on specific topics such as women or economics have tended to move abruptly from Abu Hanifa’s views to those of twentieth century jurists on the topic.
In the regional context, Taskomur described the problem of Ottoman republican historiography in which the history of law has been viewed as a dichotomy of the shari’ah as static, unchanging law vs. rationally grounded, secular qanun. Ottoman legal studies rely on qadi court documents, the most exploited sources for legal history, under the assumption that this body of source material represents law in practice, whereas fiqh material is regarded as a frozen and closed area. The historical approach regarding legal sources and fiqh of this period has suffered total disregard. Added to this is the notion that nothing changed, since this was claimed to be an age of decline. Taskomur noted that Prof. Kafadar had already mentioned the ethnicization of Ottoman law, Turkish law existing alongside Arab law, as though knowledge production of the fatwa were vernacular legal scholarship. Taskomur argued that the ethnic dimension of fiqh studies is a very marginal phenomenon.
He outlined his approach to the fiqh texts: asking questions about their authors and the social context, inquiring into the institutional and cultural framework in which this body of knowledge was produced and reproduced. From the early fourteenth to the late sixteenth centuries, there was an increase in the establishment of madrasas for legal training in the Ottoman context. From 1324-1580 CE in western Anatolia and the Balkans, more than 300 madrasas were newly established—an enormous number considering what previously existed in Anatolia, which does not include those established by the Mamluks. Along with this institutional boom, there was an increase in literacy in urban areas, which had direct bearing on the nature of legal discussions. Taskomur inquires into the Ottoman scholarly tradition, its ethos and ideals, also in disciplines of learning such as ilm al-balaga, logic, and the idea of scholarly verification of juristic proofs.
There was a spirit of competition for jobs and prestige in Islamic scholarly tradition, and an examination system was introduced for applicants to institutional positions, somewhat parallel to the Chinese civil examination system. An applicant was required to answer questions revealing his point of view on those matters. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this examination had become institutionalized.
There are a number of areas outside fiqh and qanun that developed as regional phenomena in the law, such as Ottoman engagement with Safavids and Europeans in maritime law, international law, and commercial law that developed during this period, with reference to Prof. Tezcan’s discussion of monetization and the market economy in the second empire.
Another notable feature was the public nature of the Ottoman legal discussion. Pamphleteering and the development of a new genre of the legal risale [letter] flourished in the sixteenth century, underlining the public nature of fiqh. These writings display several characteristics: They are argumentative; they cite multiple sources and utilize footnotes and references, and the texts were open to public scrutiny as opposed to being closed works for internal or courtly consumption only. Prof. Taskomur showed an example (see PPT in video) of another type of source for legal history, a treatise by Mehmet Effendi, from the sixteenth century, showing marginal notes by an anonymous reader. In sum, the faqih as a scholar is not one who imitates but one who verifies.