Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life
The transition to impersonal exchange and modern economic growth has depended on courts that enforce contracts efficiently. This article shows that Islamic courts of the Ottoman Empire exhibited biases that would have limited the expansion of trade in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly that between Muslims and non-Muslims. It thus explains why economic modernization in the Middle East involved the establishment of secular courts. In quantifying Ottoman judicial biases, the article discredits both the claim that these courts treated Christians and Jews fairly and the counterclaim that non-Muslims lost cases disproportionately. Biases against non-Muslims were in fact institutionalized. By the same token, non-Muslims did relatively well in adjudicated interfaith disputes, because they settled most conflicts out of court in anticipation of judicial biases. Islamic courts also appear to have favored state officials. The article undermines the Islamist claim that reinstituting Islamic law (sharia) would be economically beneficial.
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