Jurists, Legal Education and Politics in eleventh- to twelfth-century Syria
Paula Manstetten (SOAS)
This paper looks at the teaching of jurisprudence (fiqh) in the major Syrian cities between the late eleventh and mid-twelfth century. It aims to explore the following questions: How was legal knowledge produced, disseminated and consumed? In what ways did the establishment of more formal educational institutions, namely the madrasa in the eleventh century, influence the existing structures of legal education and transform the role of scholars within society at large? In Syria, the first endowed madrasas for the teaching of jurisprudence and related religious sciences were founded under the Seljuqs and other Turkic dynasties from the end of the eleventh century on, following the example of the Nizamiyya madrasas in Iraq and Persia. Teaching had customarily taken place in rather informal study circles in locations like mosques and private homes; now, the madrasa provided a new venue for the transmission of knowledge and offered salaries and full-time employment to Sunni scholars. Although study circles and master-disciple relationships remained at the core of education, the rise of the madrasa certainly marked a turning point for Islamic societies. The career patterns of scholars changed significantly; the scholarly elite was increasingly subjected to the control of the Turkish ruling elites who could favour certain schools of law and use the patronage of scholars to claim political legitimacy. To date, studies have usually focused on the early madrasas of Iraq and the madrasas of Ayyubid and Mamluk Syria and Egypt (i.e. after the mid-twelfth century). A look at the surprisingly understudied first madrasas of Syria and the lives of the jurists employed in them should allow for a reassessment of some of the main arguments that have been made about the madrasa, its impact on legal education, and its political use.