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ILSP Lunch Talk :: A Gentleman and a Scholar: Profile of an Ottoman Judge in the Late Sixteenth Century
May 1, 2018 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Amir Toft’s talk profiles the education and career of a judge who served for one year around 1580 as judge in the court of Üsküdar, one of the districts of Istanbul. His name and titles—Mevlana Ibrahim Çelebi Efendi el-Galatavi—are known to us only through their appearance in the court register for that year. Apart from that we know next to nothing directly about him. However, thanks to the decades of work by Ottomanists, we are able with reasonable certainty to reconstruct the path that he took to arrive at the Üsküdar court, a relatively high position that only a few people in the Ottoman legal profession were qualified to reach.
The purpose of this talk, as well as the project on which it draws, is to provide more narrative depth to the historiography of early modern Ottoman law. The great bulk of Ottoman legal studies for that period pays heavy attention to bureaucratic administration and its most prominent figures. That emphasis, while invaluable Toft’s own research, has nevertheless come at the expense of two things: one is how Ottoman jurists received and adapted Islamic jurisprudence, and the other is anything more than a thin description of the characters that drove the Ottoman legal system. This talk focuses in on the latter. Because most judges and other legal officials did not leave behind a literary output, their names only show up in archival records and they look like faceless and wooden functionaries. This talk breathes a bit of life into one of these functionaries, who would otherwise remain totally forgotten.
Amir Toft is a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Thought in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His primary scholarly interests are in Islamic jurisprudence and Ottoman history, with a view to understanding how institutions of law and government worked on the ground in premodern Islamic societies. His dissertation, through the lens of homicide in late sixteenth-century Istanbul, studies the Ottoman reception and application of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. During the 2017–18 academic year he has been a research fellow in the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale Law School.