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Ahmad Bey's 1846 Istiftāʾ: Its Dual Legislative Framework and Religio-Political Context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2023

Ismael Musah Montana*
Affiliation:
Department of History, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, USA
*

Abstract

On April 26, 1846, Ahmad Bey signed a historic emancipation decree making the Regency of Tunis the first in the modern Islamic world to formally abolish the longstanding institution of slavery. While the decree marked the first of such unprecedented measures, attracting a barrage of compliments from anti-slavery societies around the globe, it conflicted with the local notions of enslaving practices and thus prompted an earnest process of legitimation for the formal abolition of slavery before the Majlis al Shari (Sharia Council for Judicial Ordinance), without which abolition would have remained culturally and politically contentious. The paper will assess the socio-cultural context and the plural Islamic legal framework that informed both Ahmad Bey's argument favoring abolition and the divergent responses and attitudes of the religious establishment toward the abolition decree.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Society for Legal History

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References

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3 Exmouth to Earl of Bathurst, April 20 and May 5, 1816, Henry Bathurst Papers, NRA 20925, Manuscript Collections, British Library. See also, Ismael M. Montana, The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013). For an account of Exmouth's expedition to North Africa, see also, Salamé, Abraham V., Narrative of the Expedition to Algiers in the Year 1816, under the Command of the Right Hon. Admiral Lord Viscount Exmouth (London: John Murray, 1819)Google Scholar.

4 See Montana, The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia, 52–53.

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23 Naff, “The Linkage of History and Reform in Islam,” 123–24.

24 Lucette Valensi, “Is Religion Always Relevant? The Case of Tunisia (First Half of the 19th century),” in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the Course of History: Exchange and Conflicts, eds. Lothar Gall and Dietmar Willoweit (Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2011), 416.

25 Abun-Nasr, “The Tunisian State in the Eighteenth Century,” 40–41.

26 Abun-Nasr, “The Tunisian State in the Eighteenth Century.”

27 A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to the Majlis al-Sharʿī, [The Sharia Council for Judicial Ordinance], (Doc. 16a), Muharam 1262H/January 26, 1846.”

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30 A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to the Majlis al-Sharʿī, [The Sharia Council for Judicial Ordinance], (Doc. 16a), Muharam 1262H/January 26, 1846.” See also Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 87.

31 Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 87.

32 Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 87.

33 Elizabeth Van Der Haven, “The Abolition of Slavery in Tunisia (1846),” Revue d'Histoire Maghrebine 27, 990100 (2000), 349–61. See also, Elizabeth Van Der Haven, “The Bey, the Mufti and Scattered Pearls: Sharia and Political Leadership in the Age of Reform, 1800–1864” (PhD diss., Leiden University, 2006).

34 Ibn Abi Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 90.

35 Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 87.

36 Brunschvig, “ʿAbd,” 37.

37 A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to the Majlis al-Sharʿī, [The Sharia Council for Judicial Ordinance], (Doc. 16a), Muharam 1262H/January 26, 1846.”

38 Ibid. See also Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 4: 87–88.

39 Ibn Abī Diyaf, Ithāf, 7: 77–72.

40 Mohammed, Serving the Master, 45.

41 James Richardson to John Scoble, January 21, 1845, The British Foreign and Anti-Slavery Reporter 6 (1845), 27.

42 A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to the Austrian Consul, (Doc. 11), 24 Shawwāl 1258H/29 September, 1842.” See also A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to Austrian Consul, (Doc. 10), 20 Shawwāl 1258H/23 November, 1842.”

43 A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to the Austrian Consul, (Doc. 11), 24 Shawwāl 1258H/29 September, 1842.” See also A.G.T Série Historiques, “Dossier 421 Carton 230, Ahmad Bey to Austrian Consul, (Doc. 10), 20 Shawwāl 1258H/23 November, 1842.”

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46 See Valensi, “Is Religion Always Relevant?,” 418.

47 The translation herein is reproduced with from Hunwick, John and Powell, Eve Troutt, eds., The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2002), 195–96Google Scholar. I thank Markus Wiener for the permission to reproduce the translation of this text.