Fellow 1994-95

Kenneth M Cuno


Islamic Juridical Discourse and Egyptian Society during the 16th-19th Centuries

This project is a study of the Islamic juridical literature devoted to religious foundations (property endowed in support of charitable or pious activities), in 16th-19th century Egypt. It is part of a larger study of juridical writings on issues relating to the control of property and the distribution of its revenues in Ottoman Syria and Egypt. The juridical literature of this period, consisting of legal manuals and their commentaries, has been neglected by historians out of a mistaken belief that it mainly dealt with hypothetical issues, but we now know that it dealt with real issues generated in contemporary society.

Up to about a century ago and prior to the codification of law along European lines, the Shariʽa ("Islamic law") was a process, a discourse in which one could locate a "mainstream" view on a given question in jurisprudence, but in which there also were dissenting currents of opinion. It is in those places, where minority currents deviated from the mainstream, that the conflicts and debates over different issues may be best traced. Professor Cuno has noted that religious foundations were a particularly contested subject before and during the Ottoman era, and even in the twentieth century, because the control of property and/or its revenues was at stake.

In Professor Cuno's larger project thus far, he has researched and written about the juridical literature regarding agricultural land. For this phase of the project, he will research the juridical treatment of religious foundations in the manuscript collections of the libraries of Cairo, Egypt. This CAS fellowship will enable Professor Cuno to synthesize and write up this portion of his research, and to complete his reading in the printed sources he has already collected. He expects to produce at least one paper for publication, and to organize sources which will provide material for several chapters of a book-length manuscript.