Tag Archives: Islamic law

A journal for the legal history of Morocco

Logo RMHDLast year I heard about the plans for a new legal history journal, the Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit (RMHD). This month the happy news arrived about its upcoming launch. As I was about to write a brief announcement I read online two contributions about Morocco’s legal history, one in Dutch about the new journal in the Flemish Rechtshistorische Courant edited at Ghent University, the monthly bulletin for the legal history of the Low Countries, one at the Legal History Blog about a book published in 2014 concerning law and history in Morocco. It seems worthwhile to connect both items here with a third announcement on a volume of scholarly articles about the centenary of the Moroccan code of contractual law.

Researching Morocco’s legal history

Let’s start here with translating some of the words of Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent University) wrote in the Rechtshistorische Courant about the new journal led by Fouzi Rherrousse (Université Mohammed Premier Oujda): “We can only applaud this initiative for a Moroccan journal for legal history, because it will be the first of its kind in the Arab world. It will try to answer a great need. There is scarce attention for Morocco’s legal history, the subject is not included in the curriculum of the law faculties. It is to be hoped that the new journal changes this situation and gives an impulse to the study of legal history in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. In a globalising world this is also important for European legal historians”. A number of European scholars has joined the comité de lecture, and others are even members of the editorial board.

By some lucky coincidence the Legal History Blog posted a brief announcement about a book the ever-vigilant team of this very active blog apparently had missed earlier. They wanted to make good this omission, for they deem it an important study. The book in question is Etty Terem, Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco (Stanford, 2014). At the publisher’s website you can read the summary, the first chapter and the start of the second chapter. Terem studied a book in eleven volumes published in 1910 by a Moroccan scholar, al-Mahdi al-Wazzani (1849-1923) called al-Mi`yār al-jadīd, the “New Standard Measure”. Al-Wazzani collected many thousand fatwās, legal decisions, pertaining to Mālikī law. He did this just before France got de facto hold of a large part of Morocco. The treaty of Fez in 1912 divided Morocco into a French and Spanish protectorate, apart from the international enclave Tanger and a number of other ports. Terem invites you to look closely at the role, meaning, interpretation and impact of this massive legal collection.

Cover of "Le livre jubilaire"The centenary volume I mentioned above [Le Livre jubilaire. Centenaire du Dahir formant Code des Obligations et Contrats, Fouzi Rherrousse (ed.) (Oujda 2017)] was signalled at Histoire du Droit des Colonies, a French portal for colonial legal history. The Dahir was officially published on August 12, 1913. The delay between the centenary and the publication of this scholarly volume does certainly not diminish its importance. In the first section scholars write about contract law and obligations as an element of European legal history, and about different ways of codification in past and present, literally from classical Antiquity to the twenty-first century. The second section contains nine articles on the Code des obligations et des contrats, for example on the preparation by French lawyers of this code of law, Spanish influences, the impact of Roman law, the role of an Italian lawyer, and also the role of this code between law and economic influences.

The website Histoire du droit des colonies alerts also to the 2016 international conference Regards croisés sur l’histoire du droit [Different regards on legal history] held at Oujda. It underlines the role of a series of centenaries in Morocco’s legal history, with not only the Dahir, but also the first official gazette, the Bulletin officiel. The organizers rightly deplored the absence of legal history at the law faculties, only ancient law is an obligatory subject. They want to free the subject from rough generalisations, shame and confusion about the past of Morocco, and the danger of unreflected changes in current law.

Blog posts are usually not long, and I am afraid my average posts are much longer than many readers will expect, but this time I think it is better to offer only a short contribution to be continued at some point in the near future. Pursuing this path will ask some real efforts, think only of the variety in transliteration of Arab names and book titles. There exists a recent selection of texts by Islamic lawyers from the past, Islamic legal thought : a compendium of Muslim jurists, Oussama Arabi, David S. Powers and Susan A. Spectorsky (eds.) (Leiden 2013) to which Etty Terem contributed a fragment from the opus magnum of al-Mahdi al-Wazzani. You might also want to Iook at the French website Colonialcorpus. The most recent issue of the online legal history journal Clio@Themis contains articles in several languages around the theme Revues et empires coloniaux. I have not yet found a web page or website for the new Revue Marocaine d’Histoire du Droit, nor has the first issue appeared in print, but nevertheless I want to wish Fouzi Rherrousse and his team good luck in paving the roads for more space for and more attention to the legal history of Morocco, North Africa and the Arab world.

 

Protecting manuscripts in Mali to save cultural heritage and history

This month armed groups have been fighting in Mali. In a number of towns in this West-African country manuscripts are kept, sometimes in regular libraries, sometimes in the homes of families who try to preserve valuable sources for the history of their country. Timbuktu is the almost legendary town, the capital of a region with the same name. As for its name, the French spelling Toumbouctou can be found, too. Recently Tuaregs have tried to conquer Timbuktu in order to add it to a new Touareg state. The importance of the manuscripts present in Timbuktu and other cities in Mali has long been recognised. This week an appeal has been launched for the protection of these irreplaceable sources for the history of Mali, and more generally for West-Africa. The West African Research Association of the African Studies Center at Boston University is most active in promoting this urgent appeal. The IFLA, too, backs the appeal. Before more ruthless acts of violence take place with possible damage to people, their homes and belongings action is needed.

In this post I will look at research projects and digitized manuscripts from Mali. These projects might well preserve at least a part of the manuscripts and records that have survived sometimes for centuries, but are now closer to destruction than ever before.

The manuscripts of Timbuktu

The UNESCO has recognized the importance of the manuscripts in Timbuktu. Timbuktu itself was added in 1988 to the World Heritage List. Timbuktu has been home to a university since the fourteenth century. The manuscripts have been added to the Memory of the World register. With some disbelief I found only ten images in the UNESCO’s photobank for this project. Despite all efforts to study manuscripts in and from Mali the results to translate, edit and preserve them are still relatively meagre. The website of the Timbuktu Educational Foundation in Alameda, Ca., is one of the sites providing basic information on Mali and Timbuktu.

Today it was perhaps in illustration of this situation that even information on one of the largest relevant projects at the University of Oslo seemed at first to have disappeared. Between 2000 and 2007 Norwegian scholars have worked in a project for the preservation and promotion of the African literary heritage which led to an article and a provisional list of the manuscripts in the Ka’ati Library. More publications have resulted from the Toumbouctou Manuscripts Project sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the University of Cape Town. You can download three publications from the website, including a guide to the script used in these manuscripts. After registration you get full access to the database with transcriptions of manuscripts.

The African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress has digitized 32 Islamic manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye of Boujbeha, both in Timbuktu. The manuscripts dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century are accompanied by presentations about Timbuktu and the history of Mali. The manuscripts can be searched in various way. Among the subjects are jurisprudence and Islamic law. The Library of Congress has also created an online exhibition on the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu which covers much the same ground. In view of the current situation in Mali it is helpful to use the guide to web resources on Mali at the website of the Library of Congress.

The World Digital Library has within its collections 32 manuscripts from Timbuktu, all from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, the very selection discussed here above. The Center for Research Libraries has created a digital library on the theme Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu with 209 documents from the nineteenth century, again from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu.

At Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, the Melville J. Herskovits Collection with Arabic manuscripts from West Africa contains a number of manuscripts from Mali. The catalogue to this collection can be searched online. Northwestern University has a digital collection Maps of Africa with some 100 maps. Stanford University provides a fine list of web resources on Mali, but apart from the projects already mentioned no other project for Mali’s manuscripts is included. Even the Internet Library for Sub Saharan Africa, a meta-catalogue and portal maintained by a number of German institutions, does bring only few projects relevant for Mali not yet mentioned here, but for anything else this portal can help finding answers or paths to answers on many subjects. The first project is based at Timbuktu, the Sauvegarde et Valorisation pour la Défense de la Culture Islamique. It has in particular helped renovating three libraries, and in creating a digital collection of manuscripts at Timbuktu, to be found at the Aluka portal with some three hundred manuscripts. Being accessible only to paying licensed users is a major drawback to view these digitized manuscripts at Aluka. The second project is La Bibliothèque des Manuscrits Anciens de Niger at the University of Niamey in Niger. This library holds manuscripts with texts from several countries in West Africa. Plans for digitization are announced in the library calendar.

Initially I did not find the actual location of the West African Arabic Manuscript Project, but in the end the URL itself is clear enough. In the project the Al-Furqan Foundation, the Centre Ahmad Baba in Timbuktu and Northwestern University combine their forces.This bilingual website (English and Arabic) offers a database with descriptions of some 23,000 manuscripts in several West African countries, including Mali. The introduction to the Timbuktu records explains that now some 9,000 manuscript descriptions from Timbuktu have been entered into the database. Between 1990 and 1998 five volumes of the catalogue of manuscripts in Timbuktu have appeared which have been used for the database. These manuscripts constitute a third of all manuscripts presently entered. This fact shows the importance of Timbuktu very well. A first simple search in the database – approachable in English, French and Arabic – for law as a subject yields already more than 900 results. Much more manuscripts have still not been recorded. The “digital library” of the Al-Furqan Foundation is in fact a manuscript catalogue. At present it contains some 7,000 manuscripts from Mali.

The National Library of Mali in Bamako is mentioned as one of the partners of the Réseau francophone numérique, a consortium of a number of national libraries in France and francophone countries around the world, but alas no item from Mali is included in this digital library.

A double challenge

When writing this post it became soon clear I face here two challenges, dealing with Africa and with Islamic law from the position of someone trained in European history and law. At my website and here I try to present subjects and themes from all over the world. Until now Asia, Africa and Latin America have been almost absent here. This post will certainly not redeem these gaps. In fact you might agree that slavery is another subject painfully avoided here, as is colonial history. In my latest post I did mention slavery in medieval Italy, not exactly the time and place where I had most expected to detect traces of slavery. It is only sensible not to put several major themes or subjects into one post, but I promise my readers that I will every now and then try to put an Eurocentric and anglophone approach aside.

Having made thus a solemn promise to present here a wider variety I will not hesitate to return briefly to this post’s subject. I would like to point you to a very useful list of digitized Islamic manuscripts at Archivalia, and to the website of the Islamic Manuscript Association. For this post I could use my notes for pages with relevant links on African law and Islamic law that I will eventually add to my legal history website. Writing about subjects stemming from every era, country and civilization need preparation if you want to create a result worth reading.

For your convenience I give an overview of digitized manuscripts:

Islamic manuscripts from Mali, Library of Congress – also at the World Digital Library
Timbuktu Manuscripts, Aluka-World Heritage Sites/JSTOR
– Slavery and Manumission Manuscripts of Timbuktu, Center for Research Libraries

A postscript

Both for the background of Mali’s history, the importance of the Timbuktu manuscripts and the actual situation an article for The Root, ‘Fabled Timbuktu in Peril from Malian Coup’, by Michael Gomez of New York University will tell you much more than I was able to do here. The Africa department of Radio Netherlands Worldwide brings more details on the capture and current situation of Timbuktu and civil war in Mali.

A second postscript

There is a second town in Mali home to many manuscripts, Djenné. I briefly mentioned a number of projects for safeguarding endangered archives in Djenné in a post in September 2014 about the Endangered Archives Project of the British Library. Following a pilot project (EAP 269) the projects EAP 488 and EAP 490 focus on manuscripts kept privately by families at Djenné, a treasure trove as important as Timbuctu. Some 4,000 manuscripts are now known against two thousand at the start of these projects. The website of the Djenné Manuscript Library gives a list of manuscripts. For the Dogon country the pilot project EAP 764 will deal with archival collections in Bandiagara. Among the new fundraising projects for Timbuctu is T160K.

In 2013 the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Collegeville, Minnesota, too, is involved in digitizing amnuscripts from Timbuktu. For this goal the library received in 2014  a grant from the Dutch Prince Claus Fund. From January 28 to 30, 2015, a conference was held at Bamako, Mali to discuss plans for the future conservation and digitization of manusrcipts in Mali. You can now consult nearly 2,000 digitized manuscripts from Timbuctu at the vHMML (use the advanced search mode); you need to register for free to get full access to these manuscripts.

In 2015 Maja Kominko edited a volume of articles commemorating the efforts within the EAP, From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme (2015), also available online. The digital version of this book has even embedded audiofiles. In this volume is an essay by Sophie Sarin, ‘In the shadow of Timbuktu: The manuscripts of Djenné’ (pp. 173-187), which you can download separately (PDF).

In 2014 Brown University, Providence, RI, digitized the only manuscript from Timbuktu in their holdings with magical and mystical treatises.