Reforming Islamic Family Law and Making Moral Subjects in the Late Ottoman Empire

By Hakan Karpuzcu
Submitted to Session P5011 (Women, Islam, and Family Law, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This talk explores the politics of family in the late Ottoman Empire by looking at Ottoman administration’s initiatives to reform the Islamic family law during the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1918). After the formation of a codified Islamic civil code, Mecelle (1869-1876), the continuing efforts by the Ottoman reformers to streamline the religious laws resulted in the codification of Islamic family law with a decree on the family law (Hukuk-i Aile Kararnamesi) in 1917. Although it was rescinded after Ottoman Empire’s defeat in the WWI in 1919, the decree paved the way towards the creation of a secular civil law in Turkey (Swiss civil code was adopted by the new Turkish regime in 1926). I take this crucial historical episode to question what the codification of Islamic family law came to stand for, by analyzing how this law-making attended to the issues of divorce, polygyny, parental rights or childhood vis-à-vis the Islamic legal tradition. As to better understand how the reform efforts by Ottoman regime speak to the late Ottoman public intellectual discussions I also focus on growing popular discourses on monogamy, nuclear family, conjugal love and the upbringing of ‘moral national citizens.’ I therefore examine Young Turk policies on family in order to explore the ambivalent role the modern state played in maintaining Sharia as a ‘civilized law’ for keeping public morality up, and in promoting new national family values. Based on my research on archival documents and intellectual works, I elucidate the social and political repercussions of these reforms within the background of an emergent ‘Ottoman-Turkish secularism.’ This talk therefore examines in what ways the modern reconfigurations of Islamic family law as a ‘private law,’ unlike its status in the Islamic legal tradition, rendered it instrumental for the Ottoman state in remaking and supervising the national family on moral ends. Such an inquiry not only helps us to comprehend why and in what ways ‘modern governmentalities’ targeted family as their object of regulation but also gives us a historical ground for approaching the long term anxieties and aspirations of the state over the family in modern Turkey.