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Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean
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Book description

In writings about Islam, women and modernity in the Middle East, family and religion are frequently invoked but rarely historicized. Based on a wide range of local sources spanning two centuries (1660–1860), Beshara B. Doumani argues that there is no such thing as the Muslim or Arab family type that is so central to Orientalist, nationalist, and Islamist narratives. Rather, one finds dramatic regional differences, even within the same cultural zone, in the ways that family was understood, organized, and reproduced. In his comparative examination of the property devolution strategies and gender regimes in the context of local political economies, Doumani offers a groundbreaking examination of the stories and priorities of ordinary people and how they shaped the making of the modern Middle East.


'Beshara Doumani’s Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean is a mature work built on painstaking scholarship that breaks conventions in both family and legal history; moreover, it covers a period for which documentation is difficult and historiographic cliché abundant. Doumani combines control of juridical doctrine (the rules of the game) with longitudinal case material from the shariʿa court records to describe contrasting patterns of family life and property devolution in two major provincial towns - Tripoli and Nablus. The research tackles radical questions: how to explain major divergence in patterns of women’s entitlement under the same legal tradition, and how to document and to conceptualize political economies of family-property in such a way as to explain real difference under the law?'

Martha Mundy - Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics and Political Science

'In his superb social history of the differing property strategies pursued by Muslim families in contrasting Levantine settings, Beshara Doumani, our leading reader of the essential sources - the litigation records, wills and contracts preserved in the registers of the shariʿa courts - addresses pre-modern forms of estate planning based on the venerable Islamic legal institution of the private, or family endowment, and also makes important new observations concerning the agency of women.'

Brinkley Messick - Columbia  University, New York

'Brilliantly capturing the determined will of women to master their own fate, control family property, and live comfortable lives, Beshara Doumani’s comparative study of waqf and property devolution in Nablus and Tripoli from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries breaks through court cases to reveal how micro struggles over kinship and power expose the macro foundations of law and society of that period - and lay the foundation for the tools of modern state governance.'

Suad Joseph - Distinguished Professor, University of California, Davis

'… an outstanding contribution to Ottoman and Middle Eastern social history. It is also a testimony to the intellectual gains that come from painstaking and labor intensive research … This book is essential, and delightful, reading for anyone interested in the history of the family, of gender and of property regimes in the Middle East, as well as the social history of the Ottoman Empire.'

Molly Greene Source: Middle East Journal

'This book is the starting point for researchers interested in Sharia court records in Greater Syria (1650–1850). Numerous charts, genealogical tables, maps, photos, and an appendix that discusses and indexes the court records of Tripoli and Nablus enrich the text. This sophisticated, fine-grained study is meant for advanced students and specialists. Recommended.'

J. Tallon Source: Choice

'Doumani’s tightly knit argument for the historical dynamism and flexibility of Islamic legal traditions and against monolithic and unchanging notions of family and gender in the Ottoman Mediterranean is a remarkable achievement.'

Najwa al-Qattan Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'The book is a significant contribution to the newly emerging field in Middle Eastern studies that examines the political economy of family and household formation through long-term comparative analysis of demographic and legal resources … The rich and diverse bibliography and extensive notes make the book essential for students of family, gender and legal history.’

Efe Erünal Source: Continuity and Change

'… it makes a significant contribution to the historiography on law in the Ottoman domains.'

Guy Burak Source: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

'… Doumani’s study makes crucial contributions to the study of the family and kinship in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond … Doumani’s book opens space for further use of these records, especially to learn more about Islamic legal history and the relation of sharia, state, and community.'

Nada Moumtaz Source: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

‘… the beauty of Doumani’s book is that he insists on the productive labor of both quantitative and qualitative methods … The success of his book stands as a reminder of the cost of one-size-fits-all PhD timelines and evaluation standards that emphasize quantity over quality.'

Julia Stephens Source: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East

'Doumani’s book is extremely insightful … constitutes a significant landmark in the family and social histories of the Ottoman Middle East.'

Iris Agmon Source: Journal of Levantine Studies

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  • Chapter 1 - Maryam's Final Word
    pp 1-46


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