It took him 20 years.. A Palestinian re-archives the records of the Sharia Court of Jerusalem under Ottoman rule

In the records of the Sharia court in Jerusalem, the sailor can live the details of a long time period. The records used to document until the holidays, saying that today is a holiday and the court did not record anything during it, and through it one can see human behavior, customs and traditions as if the reader lived in that era.

Bethlehem- The Al-Quds Sharia Court is the second after the Greater Istanbul Court, which works on archiving records dating back to the time of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Palestine for nearly 400 years, according to Professor Ibrahim Rabaia, professor of the history of Jerusalem in the Ottoman era at Al-Quds Open University.

This was one of a group of Sharia courts in Palestine, such as the court of Nablus, the court of Hebron, the court of Jaffa, the court of Haifa and others, and it is part of a similar series that spread throughout the Ottoman Empire.

A picture of the modern records that Raba’a rearranged, classified and archived in nearly 50 records (Al-Jazeera)

daily archive

But what distinguishes the Shari’a Court of Jerusalem, according to Raba’a, is that it keeps its entire archive sequentially, on a daily basis, from 1550 until 1917.

Prof. Dr. Rabaya told Al Jazeera Net, “There are 1500 documents also found in court records from the Mamluk era, but when the Ottoman Empire came, especially during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, work began on archiving all state documents in a scientific way,” and the Ottoman Empire has kept its archive since Its inception, which distinguishes it from the rest of the other major countries, including the United States and Britain.

Raba’a shows that the records of the Sharia Court of Jerusalem contained all the daily cases of social, economic, security events, appointments and others, and contained all the daily details of Muslims and other sects who lived in the city, such as Christians and Jews.

The records of the Sharia Court of Jerusalem were not damaged or attacked, as happened in Nablus or Hebron, for example, which witnessed periods of tension and waves of anger during which the courts were looted and burned, which did not happen in Jerusalem.

Historical details

In these records, the sailor can live in the details of a distant time period, says Rabay’ah, adding, “Even on holidays, he used to write in the records that today is a holiday, and that the court did not record anything about it.” In his belief, too, it is possible to see human behavior, customs and traditions “as if you were living in that era”.

The researcher adds that the records are written and documented history, and conclusive evidence of the details of life, from which it is possible to identify the names of families and their development over the years, and even the names of regions and the origin of their names, which are suspected of Jewish origin, to discover that they are of Ottoman origin.

For example, Rabaia says that the names of the regions in Palestine were either indicative of a specific group that inhabited the site, or passed through it, or it was a geographical description of the place; Such as the town of Silwan, which is adjacent to the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, whose name at that time appears as “Lisan al-Wadi” because its geographical shape resembles the tongue.

Rabaiah studied these records for nearly 20 continuous years, and found that they are divided into two parts: the first in Arabic was for daily issues and transactions, and the second in the Ottoman language – in Arabic letters – and specialized in sultan issues or insignia, rulings of governors, and “Royal Patents”, that is, employment books that become Only effective if it is officially registered with court records.

Fadi Al-Asa/ Photos by A.  Dr..  Ibrahim Rabay’a while working on categorizing and archiving the records of the Jerusalem Sharia Court in his home in the town of Maythaloun in the Jenin governorate in the north of the occupied West BankRabay’a re-archives the daily life documented in the records of the Sharia court in Jerusalem during the rule of the Ottoman Empire (Al-Jazeera)

Records in the “microfilm”

Rabai’ah also found that some records consisted of 260-420 pages, and the size of the paper was between 20-30 cm. In the early eighties, these records were microfilmed by Mahmoud Atallah, Professor of History at An-Najah National University, in cooperation with the Director of the Manuscript Center at the University of Jordan, Adnan Al-Bakhit.

The center rescheduled the records in more than 20 columns, and it was difficult for researchers to dive into them, while Rabaiah rescheduled the records in 4 columns, after hardly obtaining a microfilm reader.

The first column, as classified by the researcher, contains the page number and the judge’s name, the second contains the number and date of the “argument/document”, the third column explains the subject of the case, and the fourth column contains information and analysis about it and an explanation of some of its terms.

Fadi Al-Asa/ Photos by A.  Dr..  Ibrahim Rabay’a while working on categorizing and archiving the records of the Jerusalem Sharia Court in his home in the town of Maythlon in the Jenin governorate in the north of the occupied West BankThe records include details of cases, appointments and decisions issued by the Sultan during the days of the Ottoman Empire (Al-Jazeera)

A Journey That Started With a PhD

Rabaya began archiving these records while preparing for a doctoral study on “Jerusalem in the 17th Century,” when he found that researchers had stopped completing their tabulation.

Rabaya completed his doctoral thesis, from Al-Nelain University in Sudan, in 2006, after which he completed his work in records from his home in the town of Maythaloun near Jenin (northern West Bank), to begin reclassifying and archiving the era between 1550-1598, with 37 records published in the Center. The Turkish “ARCICA”, affiliated with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and 5 records that it published before contracting with the center, and 7 records that are ready for publication.

Rabaia needs to work on each record between two to 4 months, and despite the cessation of funding his activity from the Turkish Center after the Corona pandemic, he never left these records, but rather browses them and works on tabulating, analyzing and archiving them, because he lives – as he describes to Al Jazeera Net – all the details of life daily in Jerusalem for 400 years.

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