Written documents as legal proof in Islamic law

Until recently, academic research considered the use of written documents by qadi courts throughout history as one of the major signs of the disconnection of Muslim legal thinking (fiqh) from applied law. This paradigm of a theory-practice-gap in “Islamic law” was built upon a reduced understanding of fiqh’s procedural laws, which only included oral forms of testimony (šahāda), acknowledgement (iqrār) and judicial oath (yamīn) as potential elements for judicial proof (bayyina), and therefore relegates “writing” (kitāba) to the rank of a mere indicator (dalīl). New important documentary evidence challenges this truism on the rejection of written proof that was first promoted by scholars like Joseph Schacht, Émile Tyan and Robert Brunschvig in the middle of the 20th century and still finds its way into academic publications on Islamic law.

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Arabic legal documents and socio-economic history

Legal documents were the main guarantee for people who went to law to keep their rights intact. Thus, they approached the notaries to have these legal instruments written down. The study of the social and economic history of Islam in premodern times, using the legal documents as the main source, should always have this premise in mind, as it was mainly individuals (and not those working in the legal system) who demanded the writing out of documents. In this sense, as historians, if we bear in mind this agency for the “consumers” of Islamic law, we will foster a more dynamic perspective in the study of Islamic societies.

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CALD: a very short introduction

The database CALD constitutes a new research tool for the comparative study of legal documents in Islam. First developed by the ERC-AdG-project Islamic Law Materialized (ILM), CALD contains meta-data, Arabic text and images of documents from the 7th to the 16th centuries CE from various regions of the Muslim world.

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The short inventory number (SIN)

With the short inventory number (SIN) for each document, CALD uses a specific reference that adapts to the requirement of displaying documents in lists and of mass citations: The SIN combines information on place and holding institution, eventually on particular collections within an institution and the inventory number of each specimen.

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Mapping content by sequence numbers (SQN)

Sequence numbers are the backbone of scientific study of legal documents in CALD. They are attributed to each textual sequence according to content (or function), the default value being 660 for non-identified content. As such, they reflect the documents’ content in an abstract form that neglects individual details.

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Islamic law as applied law

The comparative analysis of legal documents opens new research perspectives on applied law in premodern Muslim societies, a hitherto neglected aspect in Islamic legal studies. All authentic deeds are relics of applied law as they were issued in real cases for individual persons in order to safeguard their rights or to define their obligations within the legal order of their time.

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List of documents published in CALD

This list includes all the documents that are available in the CALD database or will be published soon. It refers to each document by CALD’s short inventory number (SIN), the hiǧrī-year (AH), typology and to conventional editions. The last two columns refer to a publication by “Meta data” and to the fact that the Arabic text is also included. The list will be regularly updated.

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