Der Kadi und seine Zeugen: Studie der mamlukischen Haram-Dokumente aus Jerusalem. By Christian Muller. Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 85. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Ppx + 647. 79 [euro].
One of the critical problems in writing an empirical history of practices of Islamic courts in the classical period is the lack of court records or similar real-life documents before the Ottoman period. An exception is provided by a stash of documents from the late fourteenth century that were found adjacent to the Aqsa mosque on the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem between 1974 and 1976. This was not an official court archive but a set of some 900 documents that had been collected there and were subsequently forgotten or lost, preserved thus until they were found. These documents were catalogued by Donald Little in 1984 and some have been used in earlier studies, such as Yossef Rapoport's Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society (2005). The volume under review is a study of the documents that were certified by witnesses (Zeugenurkunden).
The collection was apparently not a random one, as can be seen by the large proportion of documents that concern economic matters, in particular inheritance settlements. The documents show that it was common upon the settlement of an inheritance to have court officials make an inventory of the deceased's property and have this signed by court witnesses. Very many, but far from all of these documents were made under the jurisdiction of one particular judge, Sharaf al-Din al-Ansari (d. 1395).
The fact that this particular group of documents was set apart allows Muller to hypothesize why they were collected and thus by chance survived. It appears that Judge Sharaf al-Din was accused, along with his assistant, of having skimmed a larger commission for himself than he should have under the guise of making these inventories. This came to the attention of his superior, the recently appointed judge of Damascus, Sari l-Din al-Maslati (d. 1396-7), who may well have had the documents that related to the economic affairs of Jerusalem under Sharaf al-Din collected for the purpose of investigating the complaints. Shortly after Sari l-Din's appointment, however, the suspect Sharaf al-Din died. This made the investigation moot and since Sari l-Din died the following year without making another visit to Jerusalem, the document collection was left unattended and forgotten until its discovery...