Judicial Biases in the Ottoman Empire: The Roles of Inter-Court Competition and Personal Exchange
A key ingredient of the transition to impersonal exchange and modern economic growth has been the emergence of courts that enforce contracts efficiently and resolve disputes fairly. This paper shows that the Islamic courts of the Ottoman Empire exhibited biases that would have limited the expansion of exchanges, particularly those between Muslims and non-Muslims. It thus identifies a reason why the Islamic world’s economic modernization required the establishment of secular courts. In quantifying the biases of Ottoman courts, the paper also discredits both of the opposing claims found in Ottoman judicial historiography: the view that these courts treated Christians and Jews fairly and the counter-view that as a matter of practice they ruled against non-Muslims disproportionately. Biases against non-Muslims were in fact institutionalized. By the same token, non-Muslims did better than Muslims in adjudicated interfaith disputes, because they settled many of them out of court in an effort to limit the effects of judicial biases.
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