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Endowing Family: Waqf, Property Devolution, and Gender in Greater Syria, 1800 to 1860

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2004

University of California, Berkeley


Unlike in Europe and the United States, where the writing of family history has become a growth industry over the past thirty years, only recently have historians of Greater Syria during the Ottoman period (1516–1917) started investigating this topic.Also referred to as the Levant, or Bilad al-Sham, Greater Syria for the purposes of this article is today's Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine-Israel. As of yet, there is not a single published monograph in the English language on this topic. Two useful overviews are Haim Gerber, “Anthropology and Family History: The Ottoman and Turkish Families,” Journal of Family History, 14:4 (1989), 409–21; and Judith Tucker, “The Arab Family in History,” in Arab Women: Old Boundaries, New Frontiers, Judith Tucker, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1993), 195–207. For monographs related to family history in Greater Syria, see Linda Schatkowski-Schilcher, Families in Politics: Damascene Factions and Estates in the 18th and 19th Centuries (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH, 1985); and Annelies Moors, Women, Property and Islam: Palestinian Experiences: 1920–1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Almost two years ago, Margaret L. Meriwether kindly shared with me the rough draft of her book manuscript, The Kin Who Count: Family and Society in Ottoman Aleppo, 1770–1840 (forthcoming, University of Texas Press), which promises to be a pioneering contribution to this topic. Two important studies on family history in the Middle East outside Greater Syria—the first following the demographic approach of the Cambridge School and the second much more in the tradition of historical anthropology—are Alan Duben and Cem Behar, Istanbul Households: Marriage, Family and Fertility, 1880–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); and Martha Mundy, Domestic Government: Kinship, Community and Policy in North Yemen (London: I. B. Tauris, 1995). Of course, Jack Goody has written extensively on family history in the Middle East from a comparative perspective. See, for example, chapters one and two of his book, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Finally, some of the issues raised in this article were subjected to careful scrutiny by Vanessa Maher, Women and Property in Morocco: Their Changing Role in Relation to the Process of Social Stratification (Cambridge, 1974). Not surprisingly, this uncharted landscape is covered by a thick fog of generalizations about the “traditional Arab family.”It is perhaps not a coincidence that the equally glaring absence of family history in the field of South Asian Studies is also combined with ubiquitous generalizations about the “traditional Hindu joint family.” Indeed, Indian society, like Arab society, is said to begin with the family; but the Indian family, like the Arab family, is central to novels not to histories. Nor is it surprising that while the number of articles on the Arab and Indian families in the last twenty-odd volumes of the Journal of Family History are in the single digits, there is a plethora of studies on women's history. Perhaps, as Louise Tilly suggests, this is due to the fact that women's history is, in many ways, a movement history; while the family has long been viewed as the fundamental site of male oppression (“Women's History and Family History: Fruitful Collaboration or Missed Connection?,” Journal of Family History, 12:1–3 [1987], 303–15). That I make these comparative assertions with some confidence is due to the insightful and thorough bibliographical research of Ian Petrie, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, on the Indian family. Usually defined as a patrilineal, patrilocal, extended social unit, this family type is assumed to have remained the norm well into the twentieth century.Raphael Patai's definition is the one cited most often (Society, Culture, and Change in the Middle East, 3rd ed. [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971], 21). For critiques of this view, see Mundy's erudite analysis in Domestic Governments, 89–92. See also the articles by Gerber and Tucker cited in note 1.

Research Article
© 1998 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

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