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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2011


This article examines the relationship between state and society in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries by examining concepts and practices of privacy. Fatwas of Ottoman jurists reveal certain principles ordering the division of urban areas into public and private spaces. The article explores their application during the rebuilding of Damascus after its devastation by an earthquake in 1759. Archival sources disclose the priorities that guided the state in reconstructing a ruined provincial capital: religious values; a concern for the inhabitants’ well-being; and, rather prominently, an intent to maintain a dichotomy between public and private. In this the Ottomans were different from their contemporary European counterparts, who often took advantage of major disasters to reshape relations between rulers and subjects. This divergence is demonstrated in this article by comparing post-1759 Damascus with London after the Great Fire of 1666 and Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 Burayk, Mikhaʾil, Taʾrikh al-Sham (Damascus: Dar Qutayba, 1982 [1930]), 7880Google Scholar.

2 Privacy in the Ottoman world is the subject of Marcus, Abraham, “Privacy in Eighteenth-Century Aleppo: The Limits of Cultural Ideals,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 18 (1986): 165–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Raymond, André, “Espaces publics et espaces privés dans les villes arabes traditionnelles,” Maghreb Machrek 123 (1989): 194201Google Scholar. It is discussed more briefly in other studies, including Peirce, Leslie, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (Berkley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2003)Google Scholar; Grehan, James, Everyday Life & Consumer Culture in 18th-Century Damascus (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2007), 158–63Google Scholar, 180–82; al-Qattan, Najwa, “Litigants and Neighbors: The Communal Topography of Ottoman Damascus,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44 (2002): 511–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Raymond, André, Grandes villes arabes à l'époque ottomane (Paris: Sindbad, 1985), 272326Google Scholar; Rozen, Minna, A History of the Jewish Community in Istanbul: The Formative Years, 1453–1566 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002), 198, 241, 281Google Scholar; and Semerdjian, Elyse, “Off the Straight Path”: Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2008), 97Google Scholar.

3 Eli Alshech, “Notions of Privacy in Classical Sunni Islamic Thought” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2004), 23–27.

4 Ibid., 38–42.

5 Early Hanbali jurists allowed intrusion into the private domain only if wrongdoing could be immediately traced to a specific house, as when loud music was heard or the smell of alcohol could be discerned. Even then, entering a home was justified only after rebuking the offenders from the outside to no avail. Hanafis, on the contrary, believed that even the slightest public display of domestic misdemeanor warranted intrusion into the private domain by neighbors or passersby. Scholars of all four schools noted the conflict between the need to protect privacy within the home and society's obligation to stop or prevent wrongdoing. Ibid., 33.

6 Cook, Michael, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 479–82Google Scholar; the reference to Mawardi is on 482n106.

7 Marcus, “Privacy,” 165–83.

8 Imber, Colin, Ebu's-su'ud: The Islamic Legal Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 38, 51–58Google Scholar.

9 Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Damaghani (d. 1085) was the first Hanafi jurist to compile a work of fiqh on the laws of walls, buildings, walkways, and water conduits, entitled Masaʾil al-Hitan wa-l-Turuq, which is still in manuscript. See Brockelmann, Carl, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Weimar, Germany: Emil Felber, 1898), 1:373Google Scholar. Ottoman şeyhülislāms probably borrowed the title “Book of Walls” from al-Damaghani's contemporary, the Hanafi Marji al-Thaqafi, the author of Kitab al-Hitan (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr al-Muʿasir, 1994).

10 André Raymond used works of early Hanafi jurists to reach a similar conclusion for the division of urban space in the Ottoman Empire. Raymond, “Espaces publics,” 194–201. For a general division into private and public in Ottoman cities, see Grehan, Everyday Life, 158–62; Faroqhi, Suraiya, Subjects of the Sultan: Culture and Daily Life in the Ottoman Empire (London: I. B. Tauris, 2000), 146–52Google Scholar; and Marcus, Abraham, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 322–25Google Scholar.

11 al-Daghmi, Muhammad Rakan, Himayat al-Hayat al-Khassa fi al-Shariʿa al-Islamiyya (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 1985), 129Google Scholar.

12 This definition is different from that of Raymond, who argued that the public domain was analogous to a city's commercial center and that areas located geographically outside of it belonged in the private. Raymond, Grandes villes, 168–206.

13 The road in question was “a busy street day and night, in and out of season” (yol . . . gece ve gündüzde vaḳitli vaḳitsiz ʿubūr etmekte külli zaḥmet). The following entry that deals with the same issue defines the road as tarīḳ-i ʿām and its users as those who pass there (marr). Menteşizade, Abdürrahim, Fetava-i ʿAbdürrahim (Istanbul: Darüttıbaʿat ül-Maʾmuret üs-Sultaniye, 1827 [c. 1700]), 2:563Google Scholar.

14 The case describes houses that were next to a public road. In the winter, water was dripping from the roofs onto the street, eventually accumulating in one person's courtyard. To prevent that, the owner of the latter house constructed a wall that diverted the flow of water back on to the street but also obstructed passage. People who used to pass there regularly took the builder of the wall to court, and the qadi ordered him to tear the wall down. Ibid.

15 Ibid., 2:566.

16 Ibid., 2:567.

17 Çatalcalı, Ali Efendi, Fetava-i ʿAli Efendi maʿa Nukul ([Istanbul]: Tabʿhane-i Amire, 1856 [1733]), 632Google Scholar; for the story of sewage that erupted and ran from a few residences into a mosque and created a flood, see Feyzullah, Seyid, Fetava-ı Feyżiye maʿa Nukul ([Istanbul]: Dar ü-Tıbaʿat ül-Amire, 1850 [c.1700]), 505Google Scholar.

18 Abdürrahim discussed a case of two neighbors who used to pass through each other's garden. Once one of them built a fence around his yard and installed a new gate, the other could not pass through it without permission. The first neighbor thus redefined his private space. Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:564.

19 Feyzullah, Fetava, 503–504; Çatalcalı, Fetava, 626–28.

20 Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:570; Feyzullah, Fetava, 504.

21 Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:568–70; Feyzullah, Fetava, 507; Çatalcalı, Fetava, 632.

22 Raymond, “Espaces publics,” 198.

23 Chartier, Roger, ed., A History of Private Life: Passions of the Renaissance (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1989), 3:412–14Google Scholar.

24 Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:565.

25 Ibid., 2:566; Feyzullah, Fetava, 503.

26 Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:565; Feyzullah, Fetava, 506.

27 One decided to build a water fountain in his courtyard, but his neighbors objected. The fatwa explained that since no harm would be done to any of them by the presence of the fountain, they had no legal basis for preventing its construction. Feyzullah, Fetava, 505.

28 Early Hanafi jurists also defined the relationship between the government and its subjects as one by which the former is only active in the public domain, whereas the latter enjoys certain liberties in the private. Johansen, Baber, Contingency in a Sacred Law: Legal and Ethical Norms in the Muslim Fiqh (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999), 210–16Google Scholar.

29 al-Budayri, Ahmad, Hawadith Dimashq al-Yawmiyya (Cairo: al-Jamʿiyya al-Misriyya, 1959), 147Google Scholar.

30 Marcus, “Privacy,” 165.

31 Marcus, Eve of Modernity, 118.

32 Ambraseys, Nicholas, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: A Multidisciplinary Study of Seismicity up to 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 422–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 444–51, 486–87, 522–24, 543–45, 574–76.

33 Burayk mentions one earthquake on 19 October and another on 10 November. Burayk, Taʾrikh, 78–80. Another report dates the first quake to 24 October; al-Ghazzi, Kamil bin Husayn, Kitab Nahr al-Dhahab fi Taʾrikh Halab (Aleppo, Syria: Dar al-Qalam al-ʿArabi, 1992), 235–56Google Scholar. Thomas Dawes of the Levant Company in Aleppo describes earthquakes that took place on 30 October, 25 and 26 November, and 5, 12, and 30 December; British Library, Dawes to C. Lyttleton, letter dated 3 January 1760, Ms. Stowe no. 754, 3: fol. 43–44. A French report from Aleppo mentions two earthquakes that were felt there as well, on 30 December and 3 January; Archives de la Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie, Marseille, J 914, report dated 9 February 1760. Patrick Russell mentions one quake in Aleppo on 30 October and another on 25 November; Russell, Patrick, “An Account of the Late Earthquakes in Syria,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 51 (1760): 529–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Ambraseys has shown quite convincingly that the two major quakes indeed took place on 30 October and 25 November, respectively. Ambraseys, Earthquakes in the Mediterranean, 583–85.

34 Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (Prime Minister's Office Archives; hereafter BOA), Maliyeden Müdevver Defterleri (hereafter MMD), 3160; the original file is no longer accessible, and a poor-quality scan is offered to users of the archives instead. Parts of it were made legible by using Adobe Photoshop. The numbers mentioned in the citations of this source here refer to the image number in the file as found on the archives’ computer system, where each image represents two actual pages.

35 For entries that mention the three mosques, see BOA, MMD, 3160, 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14. For the Umayyad Mosque only, see 10, 13. For the Süleymaniye Mosque, see 13. For the Selimiye Mosque, see 7.

36 For religious schools, see ibid., 5, 8. For soup kitchens, see 5, 7, and 8. For more on soup kitchens and religious schools, see Zeynep Tarım, “Imâret,” and Nebi Bozkurt and Mehmet İpşirli, “Medrese,” in İslam Ansiklopedisi (Istanbul: Türk Diyanet Vakfı, 1988–2010), 22:219–20, 28:323–33.

37 The list appears in BOA, MMD, 3160, 2–4, 6–7, 9–12. It contains 487 entries, but 57 of them are duplicates.

38 Ibid., 2–3.

39 Ibid., 3–4.

40 Ibid., 10–13.

41 BOA, Cevdet Evkaf (hereafter C. EV.) 2190 and 2219.

42 Ṣudūr eden firman-i ʿāliyeleri mücibince kırk cāmiʿ-i şerif ve kırk hammamın taʿmīri muḳteża olan mahalleri. BOA, C. EV. 1823/2.

43 Al-Ghazzi, Nahr, 3:235–36; Burayk, Taʾrikh, 81–84; al-Budayri, Hawadith, 227–28.

44 Maṣārif-i bīnaʾ ve taʿmīr ez kalʿa-i Şām ve cāmiʿ-i şerīf-i Emevi ve minare-i ebyaż ve cāmiʿ-i şerīf-i merhūm Sulṭān Süleyman Han ve baʿżı medāris ve ʿimāret ve emākin-i saire der belde-i mezbure. BOA, MMD, 3160, 8.

45 In two places, the text reads “many other places that have been destroyed” (sair emākin-i kesire münhedim). Ibid., 5, 8. In another: “some of the places and sites that need building and repairing” (muhtac-i bīnaʾ ve taʿmīr olan baʿzı mahall ve mevāḳiʿ). Ibid., 20.

46 The citadel appears in work orders. Ibid., 1, 8, 9, 10, 13.

47 Ibid., 14–15, 17.

48 Ibid., 2–4, 6–7, 9–10.

49 BOA, C. EV., 1823/2; Cevdet Dahiliye (hereafter C. DH.) 1181.

50 Evvela ḳalʿayi ve baʿd [sic] cāmiʿ-i Emevi ber mucib-i keşf-i cedīd bīnaʾ ve taʿmīre müṣaraʿāt ve Selimiye ve Süleymaniye cāmiʿleri taʿmīrātını dahi irade buyurulduğu üzre etc. BOA, C. EV., 2070/1.

51 BOA, C. DH., 1108.

52 BOA, C. EV., 2070/1.

53 BOA, C. EV., 2070/2.

54 The number of ḥane of jizya payers in Aleppo was reduced from 14,960 to 3,105, which corresponded to a reduction of taxes collected from 80,159 guruş to a mere 19,775 guruş. BOA, Cevdet Maliye 11408/1 and 2. Ḥane was the Ottoman measuring unit for taxation. Nejat Göyünç, “Hâne,” in İslam Ansiklopedisi, 15:552–53.

55 The new number of Jewish ḥanes was computed to be 51 instead of 187.5, as it was prior to the disaster. The new figure for Christians was 354, instead of 414. BOA, MMD, 7430, 8–9.

56 BOA, MMD, 14680. The document includes an order to reduce the avārıż (3, 8), and a list of neighborhoods and their newly determined numbers, where Jews (but not Christians) appear as a separate category and are reported to have decreased from forty two to seventeen ḥanes (2).

57 For the Ottoman period, see Murphey, Rhoads, “Provisioning Istanbul: The State and Subsistence in the Early Modern Middle East,” Food and Foodways 2 (1988): 217–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For Mamluk Egypt, see Sabra, Adam, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam: Mamluk Egypt, 1250–1517 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

58 See, for example, Sabra, Poverty and Charity, 50–68; Goitein, S. D., A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000), 2:126–38Google Scholar; Cohen, Mark, Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 174–88Google Scholar; Marcus, Eve of Modernity, 212–28; Hoexter, Miriam, “Charity, the Poor, and Distribution of Alms in Ottoman Algiers,” in Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts, ed. Bonner, Michael, Ener, Mine, and Singer, Amy (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2003), 145–62Google Scholar; and Singer, Amy, Charity in Islamic Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 6781Google Scholar.

59 Menteşizade, Fetava, 2:562; Feyzullah, Fetava, 504, 506; Çatalcalı, Fetava, 628, 630.

60 Marcus, Eve of Modernity, 77, 111–12, 172, 213–15.

61 Pullan, Brian, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice: The Social Institutions of a Catholic State, to 1620 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), 216326Google Scholar; Mollat, Michel, The Poor in the Middle Ages: An Essay in Social History (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986), 193210Google Scholar, 272–93; Cavallo, Sandra, Charity and Power in Early Modern Italy: Benefactors and Their Motives in Turin, 1541–1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 4468Google Scholar.

62 Laporte, Dominique, History of Shit (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000), 37Google Scholar.

63 Hösel, Gottfried, Unser Abfall aller Zeiten: Eine Kulturgeschichte der Städtereinigung (Munich, Germany: Kommunalschriften Verlag, 1987), 71110Google Scholar.

64 Chartier, Private Life, 3:418–19.

65 Hollis, Leo, The Phoenix: St. Paul's Cathedral and the Men Who Made Modern London (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), 135–56Google Scholar; Heyl, Christoph, A Passion for Privacy: Untersuchungen zur Genese der bürgerlichen Privatsphäre in London, 1660–1800 (Munich, Germany: Oldenbourg, 2004), 213304Google Scholar (considering the Great Fire to be a watershed for privacy). See also Chartier, Private Life, 3:399–435.

66 Dynes, Russell, “The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: The First Modern Disaster,” in The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions, ed. Braun, Theodore and Radner, John (Oxford: Votaire Foundation, 2005), 3449Google Scholar; Poirier, Jean Paul, Le Tremblement de Terre de Lisbonne: 1755 (Paris: O. Jacob, 2005), 93112Google Scholar.

67 When fire destroyed a market in Aleppo in 1544, the pasha ordered that roofs no longer be constructed of hay. Al-Ghazzi, Nahr, 3:204. Similar decrees were issued in Istanbul after fires, at times resulting in population movements. See Rozen, Minna and Arbel, Benjamin, “Great Fire in the Metropolis: The Case of the Istanbul Conflagration of 1569 and its Description by Marcantonio Barbaro,” in Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in Honour of Michael Winter, ed. Wasserstein, David and Ayalon, Ami (London: Rutledge, 2006), 148Google Scholar; Kuzucu, Kemalettin, “Osmanlı Döneminde İstanbul Depremleri” and “Osmanlı Başkentinde Büyük Yangınlar ve Toplumsal Etkileri,” in Osmanlı, ed. Eren, Güler (Istanbul: Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 1999), 5:678699Google Scholar.

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