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Goodbye to the Despot: Feldman on Islamic Law in the Ottoman Empire


Molly Greene is a Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University. I would like to thank Ali Yaycioğlu for his careful reading of the manuscript and Baki Tezcan for his careful reading and for comments on the Kadizadeli and their influence into the early eighteenth century.


Noah Feldman's 2008 book, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, provides a sweeping review of the constitutional history of the Islamic polity that connects the past to developments in the Middle East today. The Ottoman Empire is vital to his argument. This essay critically evaluates Feldman's treatment of the Ottoman period, within the larger context of Islamic history, and in so doing considers the understudied constitutional history of the empire. Without denying the importance of the ulema and the shari'a, it argues that the empire was a hybrid of many different traditions and the centrality of Islamic law should not be overstated.