Lankila, Islamic Law, Saracen Raids & the medieval Mediterranean

Islamic Law and ‘Saracen Raids’ in the early medieval Central Mediterranean

Tommi P. Lankila (Università di Roma Tor Vergata, Princeton University)

In pre-Islamic times, raiding (ghazw) was a common feature of the nomadic societies of the Arabian Peninsula. Such (cattle) raiding was mostly directed against neighbouring tribes and nations but the raids were not conducted in any arbitrary manner. Instead, they were controlled by social norms and rules, in which blood and kinship were major factors regulating violence. Obviously, raiding continued on the eve of Islam, but, then, it came under the norms of religious law. Intertwined with the concept of jihad, raiding developed into an essential part of the performing of religious duties. In this paper, I will delve into Islamic law in the context of early medieval maritime raids in the central Mediterranean, which were mainly launched from the North Africa and al-Andalus towards Italy and its islands. I am interested in how such raids were conducted under the aegis of Islam; how raids were regulated and how the Islamic doctrines of jihad/ghazw worked in theory (in Maliki textbooks). This will be then compared to the actions in the field in order to see how raids worked in practice and if the regulations worked or not. As for sources, I will look into Arabic religious writings for theoretical insights, and I will study Arabic, Greek, and Latin chronicles to evaluate the practice of these raids.