Crime and Punishment in Islamic History (Early to Middle Period): A Framework for Analysis



This article reviews a number of received opinions about the history of crime and punishment in pre-modern Islamic societies in the Nile-to-Oxus region: that the definition of crime continuously overlapped notions of the sacred, given the thin or even indistinct line dividing religion and government; that the contribution of Muslim jurists ( fuqaha') to criminal law was minimal because of their lack of interest in defining the individual's rights and duties vis-à-vis the state; that in the absence of court records, the study of the pre-Ottoman history of crime and punishment is limited to the (sparse) historiographical evidence, in addition to the (largely irrelevant) Muslim fiqh. In order to nuance and, where appropriate, challenge these perceptions, this article calls for more contextualized and cross-disciplinary approaches to Islamic criminal law of the pre-Ottoman period, and proposes a new typological, actor-centred model of interpretation.