Perception of piracy in Islamic Sharī'a

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A mid-eleventh-century Geniza letter vividly describes a pirate attack on a convoy of four commercial vessels anchored at Alexandria awaiting departure for Sicily the next morning. The attackers tried to set the vessels on fire, but the wind was against them and was not strong enough to kindle the firebrands, which were extinguished by the crew and passengers. The pirates succeeded only in plundering one ship, which they ultimately had to abandon, leaving her stranded on the rocks.1 Around the same period, a petition addressed to the Fatimid caliph al-Mustanṣir (427–87/1036–94) describes the murder of a young merchant and his partner on board a Nile boat. The petition was sub-mitted on behalf of the victim’s father after the local authorities had neglected their duty. The petitioner asked “for an order to be issued to the lieutenants of the prosperous Amīr Sinān al-Dawla to arrest those sailors and the captain of the boat and investigate the matter, so that the truth of the slave’s account be confirmed.”2The two incidents presented here and other documentary evidence from the Cairo Geniza remain silent as to how Islamic law defines piracy. Who is a pirate? And, what are the punishments prescribed by the Qurʾānand Islamic jurisprudence against highway robbers and pirates? The purpose of the forth-coming discussion is, therefore, not to re-address major piratical attacks men-tioned in published documents from the Cairo Geniza, but to highlight the Islamic rulings on forcible theft at sea, on inland waterways, and in ports.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJews, Christians and Muslims in Medieval and Early Modern Times
Subtitle of host publicationA Festschrift in Honor of Mark R. Cohen
EditorsArnold E. Franklin, Roxani Eleni Margariti, Marina Rustow, Uriel Simonsohn
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9789004267848
ISBN (Print)9789004257337
StatePublished - 2014

Publication series

NameChristians and Jews in Muslim Societies
ISSN (Print)2212-5523

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies


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