Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 October 2020
Definitions and Perspectives
Customarily, the nature of the cadi's jurisdiction has been approached through etymological inquiry into the meaning of the root q.ḍ.y in the Koran. Schacht, for example, has pointed out that in the Koran the verb qaḍā signifies God’s, or the Prophet’s, decrees, while when referring to the Prophet's judicial activities the terminology is derived from the root ḥ.k.m. As Arzina B. Lalani has pointed out in an illuminating entry in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān, the Koran also includes many ethical injunctions concerning how justice should be dispensed. Moving from the Koranic teachings to classical lexicography as studied by Tillier, we observe that the infinitive noun qaḍā’ signifies judgment, and the primary function of the cadi (qāḍī) was to pronounce authoritative decisions regarding disputes brought before him. Tillier concludes the discussion with a powerful, neatly formulated statement:
Étymologiquement, la racine ‘q.ḍ.y’ est étrangère à l’idée de ‘droit’ ou de ‘justice’ et si le qāḍī peut être un juge, ses fonctions sont rarement réductibles à ce que recouvre le terme français, défini comme un ‘magistrate chargé d’appliquer les lois et de rendre la justice’. Traduire ‘qāḍī’ par ‘juge’, c’est attirer de force la cadi musulman dans un univers sémantique qui n’est pas le sien, plaquer sur lui un système référential anachronique.
At the end of the discussion Tillier offers his readers the following explanation: ‘C’est pourquoi le mot ‘qāḍī’ sera exclusivement rendu par ‘cadi’ dans cet ouvrage [i.e. his book].’
Although approached from a different angle, similar conclusions have been reached by students of the Ottoman system of the administration of justice. Gyula Káldy Nagy, writing about the Ottoman cadi, has stated: ‘The authority of the ḳāḍī covered such a large area of responsibility that the full meaning of the title cannot be accurately rendered by the word “judge”.’ Case studies on the Ottoman judicial system have corroborated Nagy's statement and depict the Ottoman cadi as a provincial administrator who was also vested with judicial authority, a duality reflected by the Ottoman court records.