Visions of Justice

Sharīʿa and Cultural Change in Russian Central Asia


Visions of Justice offers an exploration of legal consciousness among the Muslim communities of Central Asia from the end of the eighteenth century through the fall of the Russian Empire. Paolo Sartori surveys how colonialism affected the way in which Muslims formulated their convictions about entitlements and became exposed to different notions of morality. Situating his work within a range of debates about colonialism and law, legal pluralism, and subaltern subjectivity, Sartori puts the study of Central Asia on a broad, conceptually sophisticated, comparative footing. Drawing from a wealth of Arabic, Persian, Turkic and Russian sources, this book provides a thoughtful critique of method and considers some of the contrasting ways in which material from Central Asian archives may most usefully be read.

This title is available in its entirety in Open Access.
Publication in Open Access was made possible by a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation.


EUR €140.00USD $168.00

Biographical Note

Paolo Sartori, Ph.D. (2006), is Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He specializes in the history of Islamic Central Asia (17th-20th centuries), law, imperial history and colonialism. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient (Brill).

Review Quotes

Endorsements for Visions of Justice
"Visions of Justice is a remarkable depiction of Islamic justice among Central Asian Muslims under Tsarist rule. Paolo Sartori’s book tells a story that everyone interested in Islamic legal institutions and practice should hear. This meticulously researched, eloquently narrated account will generate an impact beyond the field of Central Asian studies." – Boğaç A. Ergene, The University of Vermont

"Based upon a wide range of legal sources written in Russian, Arabic, Persian, and Chaghatay, Visions of Justice invites readers to understand law as it was experienced by Muslims in Central Asia under tsarist rule and to explore the complex relationship between law and colonialism. This is an invitation that scholars of Islamic law will want to accept." – David S. Powers, Cornell University

"Paolo Sartori’s Visions of Justice is a brilliant and pathbreaking study of Tsarist-era Central Asia, and should launch a fundamental rethinking of Central Asian history from the late 18th to 21st centuries. Focused on the encounter of Russian and local legal institutions and procedures during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the book reveals the complex adaptations and manipulations, by Central Asians, of the expanded menu of legal options that would prove to be one of the most subtly transformative aspects of Russian rule." – Devin DeWeese, Indiana University

"Visions of Justice is an instant classic in the historiography of modern Central Asia. In breathtaking detail, Sartori describes the transformation of the Islamic field under colonial rule. Through a stunning variety of new evidence mined from official and private family archives across Uzbekistan, much of it bringing to life and humanizing the acute concerns of Central Asian litigants, Sartori addresses a number of significant and longstanding lacunae in the historiography." – Eren Tasar, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“….Visions of Justice covers fundamental academic research which fills lacunas in the studies of the legal history of Transoxiana in the period of Russian colonization. It offers a complex outlook on the evolution of the Islamic judicial system in Russian Central Asia and introduces a large number of new documentary sources on the everyday consumption of the sharīʿa justice in a changing social environment. Numerous excerpts from archival material quoted throughout the book as well as full texts of exemplary documents in the Appendix provide a solid footing for the author’s argumentation and conclusions.Specialists will take advantage of transcriptions of the most important fragments from original texts occasionally supplemented with photocopies of quoted documents. What makes Visions of Justice suitable for a wider readership is that the intriguing lawsuit cases are regularly discussed as life stories in which the author gives voice to people of varied standing, be they ordinary Muslim litigants of both sexes, or high up native judges and legists, or local translators and assessors, or Russian military and administrative officials on different rungs of the imperial bureaucratic ladder.” -- Mikhail Pelevin, Saint Petersburg State University, in Iranian Studies

Table of contents

Note on Transliteration and Nomenclature
List of Maps and Illustrations

Chapter One: The Islamic Juridical Field in Central Asia, ca. 1785-1918
Chapter Two: Native Judges into Colonial Scapegoats
Chapter Three: The Bureaucratization of Land Tenure
Chapter Four: Annulling Charitable Endowments
Chapter Five: Fatwas for Muslims, Opinions for Russians
Epilogue: The Legacy: Opportunities from Colonialism
Appendixes I-IV
Glossary of Islamic Terms
Archival Files Consulted


All interested in the history of post-Mongol Central Asia, in the social dynamics of the wider Islamic world, as well as (Islamic) legal history.