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Judicial Biases in Ottoman Istanbul: Islamic Justice and Its Compatibility with Modern Economic Life

Listed author(s):
  • Timur Kuran
  • Scott Lustig
Registered author(s):

    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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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/665537
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/665537
    Download Restriction: Access to the online full text or PDF requires a subscription.

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    Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Law and Economics.

    Volume (Year): 55 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 3 ()
    Pages: 631-666

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    Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/665537
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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    1. Timur Kuran, 2004. "The Economic Ascent of the Middle East’s Religious Minorities: The Role of Islamic Legal Pluralism," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 475-515, 06.
    2. Cosgel, Metin & Miceli, Thomas & Ahmed, Rasha, 2009. "Law, state power, and taxation in Islamic history," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 704-717, September.
    3. Feld, Lars P. & Voigt, Stefan, 2003. "Economic growth and judicial independence: cross-country evidence using a new set of indicators," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 497-527, September.
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    5. Shavell, Steven, 1996. "Any Frequency of Plaintiff Victory at Trial Is Possible," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(2), pages 493-501, June.
    6. Avinash Dixit, 2003. "Trade Expansion and Contract Enforcement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(6), pages 1293-1317, December.
    7. zmucur, S leyman & Pamuk, Sevket, 2002. "Real Wages And Standards Of Living In The Ottoman Empire, 1489 1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(02), pages 293-321, June.
    8. George L. Priest & Benjamin Klein, 1984. "The Selection of Disputes for Litigation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-56, January.
    9. F. Andrew Hanssen, 2004. "Is There a Politically Optimal Level of Judicial Independence?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 712-729, June.
    10. Siegelman, Peter & Donohue, John J, III, 1995. "The Selection of Employment Discrimination Disputes for Litigation: Using Business Cycle Effects to Test the Priest-Klein Hypothesis," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 427-462, June.
    11. Moses Shayo & Asaf Zussman, 2011. "Judicial Ingroup Bias in the Shadow of Terrorism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(3), pages 1447-1484.
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