December 14, 2018

Al-Tikriti Presents Paper, Joins Book Prize Panel at MESA Conference

Associate Professor of Middle East History Nabil Al-Tikriti presented a paper entitled “The Imam’s Cut: Ghaza’ Norms in the Ottoman Age of the Caliphate on Sunday, November 18. The presentation took place on a panel titled Ruler of the East and the West: Notions of Universal Rule in Early Modern Ottoman History, 1400-1800” in San Antonio at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) Conference.

The paper abstract was: “At some point between June 1509 and his death in February 1513, the Ottoman royal Şehzade Korkud completed an Arabic legal manual attempting to clarify what he considered doctrinally correct allocation of human and material plunder in a theater of war. Entitled Hall ishkal al-afkar fi hill amwal al-kuffar (A Solution for Intellectual Difficulties Concerning the Proper Disposal of Infidel Properties), the text appears to have had two primary purposes: to rationalize property allocation among victorious participants in the ghaza’ military economy, and to define licit sexual relations with concubines and captives.

Korkud’s text can be read as an attempt to fit an evolving imperial law of war into older shari‘a norms of conquest administration. While the manual’s legal scholarship falls squarely within the Shafi‘i tradition of siyar (campaign rules) literature, at the time it provided a fresh synthesis of older rulings answering to particularly Ottoman concerns.

One of the key claims Korkud made was the decisive role agents of the imam must play in adjudicating, taxing, and allocating both human and material plunder. Ensuring that the imam’s fifth is properly administered, implicitly by Ottoman state officials, provided a religio-political case for imperial control over the ghaza’ economy, as well as over other issues related to the laws of war and taxation. In light of caliphal titulature periodically floated during Bayezid II’s reign, Hall ishkal al-afkar predicated itself on Ottoman justifications for universal rule as the caliphal authority.

Demonstrating the continuing relevance of such siyar campaign literature, in 2013 a small Istanbul press, ISAR, published a scholarly introduction, full Turkish translation, and complete facsimile of Hall ishkal al-afkar. With this paper, I shall attempt to situate this text within its broader Ottoman and Islamic context, as well as suggest possible connections between this text and recent allegations of regulated sexual slavery by Da‘sh in Iraq and Syria.”

The panel summary was as follows: “It is commonly assumed that Ottoman sultans did not deploy the title ‘caliph’ with any efficacy or intent until the reign of Abdülhamid II (d. 1918), whose interest in the title was diplomatically motivated. Recent studies have demonstrated, however, that there is a much longer and richer history to the notion of caliphate, in its mystical-theological sense, as part and parcel of Ottoman political thought.

This panel aims to investigate early modern Ottoman notions of caliphate as an expression of Ottoman political ambition for universal rule. Caliphate, or the notion of divinely ordained rule, was employed by Ottoman authors to argue universal supremacy synchronically and diachronically.

Synchronically, the notion of universal caliphate served to claim superiority over contemporary polities. Diachronically, the same concept was employed to compare the Ottomans with preceding Islamic dynasties, intimating both enduring permanence and culmination.

The panel engages with Ottoman political writing on the concept of divinely ordained universal rule in two key ways. First, we aim to show that the Ottoman dynasty grappled with the notion of caliphate from early on. From bolstering claims to superiority over their archenemies, the Safavids, to regulating the realm of law and legitimacy, the title ‘caliph’ had a lot to offer to the Ottoman authorities in the early modern period. Second, and more significantly, we locate an intellectual territory beyond the administrative-pragmatic uses of the title ‘caliph’. Ottoman discussions of caliphate comprised sophisticated discussions about the nature of divine authority and its relation to sacral authority framed in rich mystical, philosophical, and ethical traditions. This panel aims to acknowledge the historical dynamism of the Ottoman notions of caliphate, while showing that questions of caliphate and of divine legitimation were never the realm of the political center exclusively. They were simultaneously the realm of the mystic, the theologian, and the ‘ulama.”

Panel Participants’ List: