ISLAMIC MARITIME LAW AND PRACTICE DURING THE CLASSICAL PERIOD 200-900 CE (AH 815-1494): A STUDY BASED ON JURISPRUDENTIAL, HISTORICAL AND GENIZA SOURCES


It is commonly asserted that the modern law of the sea, like other rules of inter-state relations inherited by the international community, is essentially of Western origin, the legacy of centuries of European legal and commercial practice. The widespread acceptance of this hypothesis may well stem from the near absence of scholarly works investigating the contribution of non-European peoples to the development of international maritime law.

Less than a century after the rise of Islam in Arabia in 622 CE, the Umayyad caliphs dominated more than half of the maritime possessions of Persia and Byzantium. The eastern, western and southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea fell entirely under Islamic control, as did the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and parts of the coast of the Indian Ocean. Despite the world historical importance of this development, the Islamic military and economic expansion on the seas has, until recently, attracted scant attention in modern Islamic scholarship. Now, however, thanks to recent publications based on the Cairo Geniza documents, Islamic historical sources, travel accounts and nautical literature, we are better informed about various aspects of Islamic maritime activities during the classical period (200-900 / 815-1494).

The study examines Islamic maritime law and the actual practices of Muslim sailors during the classical period. Subjects covered include: the important terminology of maritime life and the interrelationship of shipowners, crew, and passengers; contracts for the leasing of ships, freight charges, transportation of goods, port taxes and tolls; losses at sea, including the laws concerning jettison and general average, collision and salvage of jetsam; military maritime law, the function of the riba't system in coastal navigation and the legal significance of territorial waters as interpreted by Muslim jurists, governors and seafarers; and finally, the way in which Islamic maritime law was adjudicated at sea and the way in which sea-travel affected the performance of Islamic religious duties.

In addition to the examination of the legal methods practiced by Muslim jurists to solve issues pertaining to the sea, the dissertation surveys differences of legal opinion among various Islamic law schools, including the Za'hiri and Sh'i'te. This discussion also touches on the question of continuity between the maritime practices of on the one hand, Persia and Byzantium and on the other hand, the new Islamic polity.

Hassan Khalilieh


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