Arabic Legal Documents from the Fatimid Period and their Historical Background

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Shomali, Mohammad Javad 

This thesis is a study of a corpus of Arabic legal documents datable to the Fatimid period. The documents all have their origin in the Fayyūm. The majority of the documents of the corpus are documents of sale. There is also a document of receipt (qabḍ), two documents of testimony (shahāda), a document of acknowledgement (ʾiqrār), and a few documents of marriage. Among the documents of sale, nine have not previously been published. The study includes an edition of the unpublished texts with an English translation.

Each chapter of the thesis presents an analysis of the documents from different perspectives. These include analysis of the script, the formulaic structure, the prosopography of the communities involved in the documents, and the historical context in which the documents were written. Comparison is made with Arabic legal documents from other regions.

A central chapter in the thesis presents a detailed discussion concerning the function of written documents in Islamic law. It is widely believed that according to early Islamic legal doctrine written documents were not considered sufficient proofs of a legal contract. However, despite this lack of approval, written documents were part of the daily practice of Muslim in the medieval period. This presumed gap between legal theory and judiciary practice has engaged many scholars. This thesis aims to contribute to this discussion through the comparative study of the Arabic legal documents of the corpus with the literary works of Islamic law. By examining a large number of works Islamic jurisprudence it is shown that jurists gradually adapted legal theory with regard to the status of written documents as legal proofs in the light of the realities of legal practice.

Khan, Geoffrey
Arabic Legal Documents, Fatimid Period, Fayyum, Ṭuṭūn, Islamic Law
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust