Women's property rights in seventeenth-century Istanbul
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In this dissertation, I examine the methods that Muslim women used to protect and manage their property rights in Istanbul in the second half of the seventeenth century. The flexibility of Islamic law permitted women to choose among the existing legal norms in order to possess, own, and manage their properties; to negotiate their relationship with natal and matrimonial families; and to strategize for their inheritance. Through the examination of sharia court records and endowment deeds, I demonstrate the changing patterns in Istanbulite women’s relationship to property, their strategies in using the sharia court, and their mechanisms in transferring their properties to the next generations. By the mid-seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire was undergoing a series of administrative transformations that led to further expansion and centralization of the Ottoman legal administration in general and the expansion of the sharia courts in particular. This study investigates sharia court records in order to trace both continuities and changes regarding women’s property rights in an era when the economy was increasingly privatized and monetized. While the amount and proportion of the properties to which women were legally entitled increased over the course of the seventeenth century, this dissertation demonstrates that Istanbulite women continued to prefer the ownership of cash and movable properties to that of real estate. Yet, this preference did not mean that they gave away their properties; rather, these women transferred one form of property to another in order to meet their immediate needs. Istanbulite women also turned their real estate into family trusts, which provided relatively secure accommodation for their children and descendants. These women were particularly concerned about the devolution of their estates to their female descendants, a phenomenon that was especially apparent in the gender-egalitarian approach of female founders of family trusts. The sharia court proved to be an important ally for Istanbulite women in realizing their strategies for protecting property rights and securing the well-being of their nuclear families.