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The Shurṭa in al-Andalus: An Alternative History of Islamic Criminal Justice
Recently, historians of Islamic al-Andalus have discussed the prominent role that the ʿulamāʾ (scholarly classes) and the quḍāt (judiciary) played in military and political affairs. However, the close-knit relationship between the shurṭa (military and criminal prefects), and the ʿulamāʾ and also the judiciary in the Umayyad and Party King societies like Cordoba has never been thoroughly examined. Maribel Fierro and Mateusz Wilk discuss how the Umayyad rulers patronized the ʿulamāʾ and depended on their support to ensure the legitimacy of the former. On the other hand, the shurṭa were a critical instrument of Umayyad sovereignty acting as governors, criminal magistrates, police chiefs, and military commanders. Significantly, the ʿulamāʾ and the quḍāt served as both members and supporters of these military-administrative elites. Chronicles and biographical dictionaries attest to a considerable number of the chiefs of the shurṭa as being derived from the ʿulamāʾ and judiciary, and even being assisted in their legal judgments by jurisconsults. This social-legal development in Islamic al-Andalus was in stark contrast to the existing institutional and jurisdictional divide in Near Eastern criminal justice between the late eighth and eleventh centuries. The Abbasids and their successors, the Buyids and Fatimids, deliberately kept scholarly and judicial classes separate from military ones, resulting in the jurists and judges having little influence over the enforcement of criminal law. The contrasting natures of the Umayyad shurṭa of al-Andalus and its Abbasid equivalent, in regards to the participation of the scholars and judiciary, was not an inevitability. I argue that the unique political, social, and geographical conditions of al-Andalus played a transformative role in further distinguishing the evolution of the shurṭa, particularly in sovereignty, jurisdiction, and law from the criminal justice institutions of the Near East. Utilizing a wide range of sources such as chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and legal treatises allows for a more three-dimensional portrait of this social-legal trajectory. Umayyad and Party King-era authors, such as Ibn al-Faraḍī (d. 403/1013) and Ibn Sahl (d. 486/1093), are integral to my argument. My examination of this institution’s demographic and juridical history in premodern Islamic Cordoba serves as a case study for our understanding of the variety of developmental pathways Islamic society and criminal justice can take.
Geographic Area
Sub Area
7th-13th Centuries