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The Law, Agency, and Policy in Medieval Islamic Society: Development of the Institutions of Learning from the Tenth to the Fifteenth Century

  • Said Amir Arjomand (a1)
    • Published online: 01 April 1999

In his magisterial studies on the Islamic educational system, George Makdisi (1961, 1981, 1990) traces three stages in the development of the madrasa (Islamic school) into colleges for the study of the Koran, the Traditions of the Prophet, and jurisprudence. These three stages, first suggested by Pedersen (1986), are the following: first, the development of teaching circles (halgas) for various subjects in mosques from the earliest times to the tenth century; second, the emergence of the “mosque-inn colleges” toward the end of the tenth century; and, finally, third, the development of the “madrasa colleges of law,” in which the functions of the mosque and the inn (or hostel, khān) were combined in an institution based on a single deed of endowment (Pedersen 1986: 1123). Makdisi includes the official establishment of the madrasas by the great Seljuq vizier, Nizam al-Murk, in the second half of the eleventh century in this stage. In the twelfth century, the college as developed in the Islamic world was, according to Makdisi, first imported into Europe by the Knights Templar of the Levant who founded the Inns of Court in London. The Inns of Court were attached to churches, as khāns had been attached to mosques. Somewhat later, one John of London who must have seen madrasas in or on the way to Jerusalem, endowed the College des Dix-Huit in Paris for 18 poor students in 1180. In the mid-thirteenth century, the first 3 colleges of Oxford were founded as charitable trusts. (Makdisi 1981:224–30; 1990:311–7). Whatever the merits of this argument for the world-historical importance of the madrasa as the prototype of the European university, the significance of its development in medieval Islam cannot be doubted. The subject is of particular theoretical interest because of the intricate connection between the evolution of the institutions of higher learning and the character of law and government. This connection can illuminate the dynamics of social agency in pre-modern Islamic society.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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