Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2014

William Smiley

Graduate Research Associate, Center for History and Economics, Harvard University

Legitimation, Legal Advice, and Statecraft: The Ottoman Şeyhülislam and the Law of Rebellion, 1769-1830

Drawing on a series of fatwas and imperial rescripts from the Hatt-ı Hümayun and Cevdet collections of the central Ottoman archives, this paper examines the relationship between the Ottoman Empire’s chief jurist, the Şeyhülislam, and the political authorities during a fraught moment in Ottoman history. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Ottoman state was faced with internal turmoil from intertwined networks of Christian and sometimes Muslim rebels, bandits, and dissidents throughout the Balkans. The state responded by elaborating and applying the Hanafi law of rebellion to draw lines between those who could and could not be killed and enslaved. These lines, drawn with attention to the Islamic legal tradition, to the gendered economies of Ottoman slavery, and to military necessities, in turn shaped the social and military context. The paper traces how the Şeyhülislam and his fatwas interacted with the political authorities’ policy considerations and with events on the ground, offering a case study of the relationship between juristic and political institutions in pre-modern Islamic governance.

Will Smiley received his PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Cambridge in October 2012. He is currently a third-year JD student at Yale University, and a Graduate Research Associate of the Center for History and Economics at Harvard University. His research focuses on the legal, diplomatic, military, and social history of the Ottoman Empire, with a particular focus on Russo-Ottoman relations and questions of international and Islamic law. His dissertation examined changes in the Ottoman law and practice of captivity and slavery, especially the development of a “prisoner of war” system, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Middle East StudiesInternational History ReviewTurkish Historical ReviewJournal of Ottoman Studies, and Yale Journal of International Law, and has been supported by the Gates Cambridge Trust, the Harvard-Cambridge History Project, the Royal Historical Society, and the Skiliter Centre for Ottoman Studies.