Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 October 2020
At the heart of the book lies the largely ignored question of to what extent Muslim law (sharīʿa) was applied in medieval Islamic states and whether its precepts indeed governed the life of individuals and the conduct of society. This book, however, is not about the formation of Islamic law, but rather about judicial institutions which preceded and paralleled the formation of the law and remained in place unaffected by that formation. The book is also about the political-administrative history that shaped the way justice was administrated, and what the spheres of competence were of the various bodies that made up the system.
Four judicial institutions were involved in the administration of justice in medieval Islam: the cadi, the chief of police (shurṭa/ṣāḥib al-shurṭa), the market inspector (ḥisba/mu ḥtasib) and the ruler (the maẓālim institution). There are ample sources and a considerable body of literature on the way the cadi operated and how justice was dispensed by the ruler. To what extent, however, the maẓālim court – not to say criminal justice dispensed by the chief of the police – adhered to and was congruent with the sharīʿa remains little-discussed. What is known about the chiefs of police in early Islam and the Fatimid period casts doubt as to whether sharīʿ law was applied in the cases adjudicated by them, and how the police gained a monopoly on the administration of criminal justice is another obscure question. The same set of questions is applicable to the ḥisba law and the post of market inspector; both became Islamised and perceived as the embodiment of the Koranic dictum of ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong’. Early ḥisba manuals, however, are texts with no religious connotations, and the core of the ḥisba regulations remained beyond the pale of the sharīʿa.
Modern literature on medieval Islam perceives the sharīʿa as an embodiment of Islam as a system of beliefs and civilisation.