Thou Shalt Not Enter the Bazaar on Rainy Days! Zemmi Merchants in Safavid Isfahan: Shiʿite Feqh Meeting Social Reality

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Abstract

Many Muslim and non-Muslim merchants from East and West were attracted to Safavid Isfahan, the new “center of the world,” a city that also played host to its own mercantile communities, among them many zemmi traders—Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians. As representatives of the newly-established Twelver Shiʿite theology, Safavid religious scholars felt the need to offer commentary on evolving issues on a theoretical level, sometimes writing not in Arabic but in New Persian. How did they regard the activities of zemmi merchants? Were zemmi traders subject to religiously-motivated restrictions? Or did they, on the other hand, enjoy exclusive rights? While my paper focusses on these questions, it will also compare the legal opinions of selected Safavid foqahāʾ on the social reality as reflected in travelogues and through historiography.

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