Documentary evidence – evidence on documents?

One of the still oft-repeated truisms about Muslim societies before the Ottoman / Early Modern period is that they left no archives of documents behind, precisely because status was negotiated in ways different from, and more informal than, those in contemporaneous Europe. Konrad Hirschler’s discoveries of reused documents in codices are only one example.

Yehoshua Frenkel’s interpretation of Mamluk society as one of a thoroughly contractual nature (Frenkel 2009, p. 150) seems to be closer to the point. In my early readings of Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq, I often stumbled over the technical language he uses in lengthy elaborations on legal cases that he attended in his function as a notary. Their frequency and the space he dedicates to descriptions of even everyday contracts and other legal transactions, clearly betray the role, written and notarized documents played in his time.

The following is an excerpt from that work (vol. 2, pp. 847-848), in which he lists the documents and attestations he had to provide in a dispute other claims to waqf property. After the death of Fāṭima, one of his female relatives, members of several strands of the extended family rushed in to claim their shares of the benefits that formerly went to her and to her mother, who is only known as al-Khātūn (‘the lady’) before her:

I gave the waqfiyya (kitāb waqf) of [the endowment in] Maʿlūlā and the agreement (muṣādaqa) between me and the Banū Nabhān and the wikāla that contains my wikāla, all of it in a white cotton bag, to shaykh Abū al-Faḍl because of the allotment of [the inheritance of] Bint al-Khātūn.

[I added to this:] the proof of my kinship with the endower (thubūt nasabī li-l-wāqif), the proof that Fāṭima [bt. al-khātūn] and my mother had died before her mother, the allotment (ḥiṣṣa) of Bint al-Khātūn; she had a share until her death that her mother had transferred to her in the legal way (bi-l-ṭarīq al-sharʿī), and eleven Fatwas by Egyptians:

1. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
2. Al-Khaṭīb al-wazīrī al-mālikī
3. shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī
4. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
5. Ibn al-Shiḥna al-Ḥanafī
6. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
7. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
8. Ibn al-Dayrī al-Ḥanafī
9. Al-Shīshnī (?) al-Ḥanbalī
10. The Ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Damascus (shām)
11. Qāḍī Kamāl al-Dīn ibn al-Nāsikh al-Mālikī

On the agreement (muṣādaqa) [I added] 5 [fatwas, testimonies?] by:

1. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
2. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
3. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
4. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
5. Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn al-Shāfiʿī
6. Ibn al-Ḥamrā al-Ḥanafī
7. Al-ʿAskarī al-Ḥanbalī

Furthermore, [I added] fatwas in my handwriting on the division into tenths (ʿushr), without writing anything on them, rough drafts in my handwriting on temporary rent (ujrat al-miyal), and fatwas in the handwriting of shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī, which collect what he had written for me, [gap in the text].

All of that was put in the basket in which are the letters/books (kutub).

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Documentary evidence – evidence on documents?", in Damascus Anecdotes, September 20, 2016,

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