Marriage and Divorce of Christians and New Muslims in Early Modern Ottoman Empire: Crete 1645-1670

In: Oriente Moderno

Abstract

This paper focuses on many interesting remarks with regard to the application of Ottoman law in Crete in the second half of the XVII century. At that time, the general principles of Ḥanafī law on marriage and divorce were followed and the Ottoman modifications stressing the judicial and sultanic authority were observed. The registration of marriage contracts is considered an important if not necessary requirement. The aim was to alleviate complications in case of divorce or death of one of the spouses. The petition to the judge to reissue a marriage contract was a practical necessity, an example of which is the order of the judge to produce the marriage contract, as proof. This does not mean though that practice was similar everywhere in the empire. Societies like the Cretan one with a long tradition of written documentation, inherited by the Venetians, was more apt to adopt Ottoman innovations on registration than towns in Anatolia.

Christians and new Muslims in Crete seem to have adapted rather rapidly to the introduction of the new judicial system. They can defend themselves successfully in court and they are aware of procedure. It is remarkable to see a Christian woman achieving the rehearing of her case through a sultanic order few years after the conquest. I cannot however but wonder about the type of legal advice and aid she had received local customs like the traditional dowry given by the wife to the husband, is thus disguised, as gift to adhere to new legal concepts. Social problems like poverty, forced conversion or second marriages, illustrate the problems the judge was faced with. Thus the ottoman judge uncertain as to whether the rapidly changing Cretan society, with the numerous converts and non-Muslims is capable of understanding fine points of Islamic law, operates as an educator reminding the litigants of their obligations.

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