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Towards a More Entangled Ottoman Intellectual History: The Case of Mecelle (1868-1889)
The more recent scholarship establishes that the first codified civil law in the Islamic World Mecelle-i Ahkâm-ı Adliyye (1868-1876) is not a sort of timid, traditionalist, Islamist, and less successful alternative to the French Civil Code but rather a part of the modern global codification movement of the long 19th century. Following that, this paper aims to contribute to the ever-growing scholarship that challenges a sort of diffusionist modernity model according to which ideas, reforms, and all sorts of intellectual advancements first originate in the Ottoman capital, İstanbul, and then spread to the so-called periphery of the empire. That is, by drawing on primary sources in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, it examines Mecelle by paying attention to the connections and affiliations across the empire: from a less İstanbul-centric perspective and by considering the contributions of non-Muslim Ottoman subjects’ and their engagement with the Mecelle. The first major contribution of this research is to demonstrate that controversies around the Mecelle were not limited to a small circle of intellectuals and bureaucrats in İstanbul: more recent scholarship and my ongoing research demonstrate that Mecelle can be better understood when the multi-directional intellectual exchanges that were not necessarily limited by time, political borders, and sectarian differences into consideration. Archival documents including the previously unutilized meeting minutes of the Mecelle Committee and correspondence among its members enable me to reveal important intellectual networks and entanglements within the Ottoman Empire and with the larger Islamic world. Thus, I argue that the preparation of Mecelle (1868-1876) and subsequent meetings of the Mecelle Committee until 1889 further enhance the creation and expansion of these networks where İstanbul might be an important center, but certainly not the only one. Secondly, Mecelle was prepared for Muslim as well as non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, although it should not come as a surprise that non-Muslim subjects of the empire also showed great interest in Mecelle, there has not been any dedicated study on non-Muslim engagements with Mecelle. To close this gap, this study focuses on non-Muslim legal experts and intellectuals. Relying on my findings from the Ottoman archives such as the correspondence of the Mecelle Committee with non-Muslim legal experts, and books written on the interpretation of Mecelle by non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, it can be safely concluded that the non-Muslims were an important part of the making of the Mecelle.
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Arabian Peninsula
Ottoman Empire
Sub Area