Overlaps and Takeovers

Overlaps and Takeovers

After the 1885 Ottoman population census, new responsibilities were added to their list of duties, and the muhtars were required to issue birth, death, and marriage certificates and record these demographic events.34 The administrative setup for registering these events did not prove to be successful on the whole, and, right to the end of the Ottoman Empire, it remained incomplete.
The side effect on the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle of this obligation to record vital events was an overlap (apparently not a conflict, though) and a transfer of authority from the imam to the muhtar. This overlap concerns the marriage records in Kasap ƒlyas. According to Islamic Law marriage is not a sacrament and does not have to be religiously sanctified in any way. It is basically considered a contract of common law between two people, a contract having important personal and financial consequences.35 The contract is deemed perfectly valid if a number of formal conditions are satisfied. The function of the religious authority, in our case the imam of Kasap ƒlyas, was simply one of supervision, and his presence was necessary to certify that all of the formal requirements had been fulfilled and that the marriage was legal.
From 1864 on, however, the local headman of Kasap ƒlyas had been recording the marriages celebrated by the imam, and a total of 654 marriages spanning the years between 1864 and 1907 are listed in the muhtar’s notebooks. What is noteworthy, however, is that the muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas took over from the imam a number of initiatives that went far beyond the simple and, perhaps, understandable zeal of listing the names and the dates of marriage of newlyweds in his neighborhood. The muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas was not content with a simple registration of marriages. As a matter-of-fact, he took it upon himself to deliver to acquaintances documents certifying that there was no hindrance to his or her marriage. This type of document was called an izinname and states that no legal barrier exists to the nuptial arrangements.36
These documents—the muhtar acting as a sort of moral guarantor—en- abled the persons to whom they were given, to contract a lawful marriage in a neighborhood or an area where they were not personally well-known. On June 12, 1889, for instance, the muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas himself certifies that “As
Ömer bin Raœit, living in number 25 Helvacı street, intends to get married, there is no impediment to it from the point of view of the shari’a….”37 In many other instances, the muhtar does not personally allow a marriage to take place but takes the testimony of third parties as sufficient evidence for the lawfulness of the marriage contract. Note is taken, with the marriage record itself, that “such and such a person has testified or guaranteed in writing that the bride, or the groom have no legal impediment to matrimony.”
Here are three typical examples of such testimonies, all of them written in the muhtar’s notebooks as marginal notes to the relevant marriage records: “My daughter Fatma is not engaged to anyone and has no impediment of any sort to marriage. If any impediment appears later, I accept full responsibility.
Signed and sealed, Ismail Hakkı, of the Justice department, 3 August 1889.”38 “Rıza bey has guaranteed that the bride has no legal impediment to matrimony, 5 March 1895.”39 “The bride has no impediment, as shown by the note from the Dizdariye neighborhood and the oral testimonies of ¥eyh Halil Efendi, kahveci Hasan and muhallebici Kadri, June 1898.”40 As a matter-of- fact, more than one fourth of all of the marriages in the muhtar’s notebooks contain, in the margin, mention either of such a marriage permission or of the testimony of goodwill of a third party to the contract.
In all legality, however, only a person well versed in Islamic law, a person having full knowledge of both the formal and the substantive preconditions of marriage, a religious judge, a kadı, or an imam could evaluate the legal situation of the future spouses and could have the necessary authority to deliver such a certificate. Similarly, the legality of a marriage permission, or the validity of personal testimony on the matter could be fully evaluated and eventually accepted only by a religious authority, by a kadı or an imam, and not by a secular muhtar.
Clearly, in this matter of marriage registration and certification, the new local headman had trespassed a legal frontier and taken over part of the authority of the traditional local religious leader. This transfer of authority in our mahalle may well have been an exceptional situation in , the result of a sui generis relationship of confidence between a highly prestigious muhtar and a rather complacent imam. In the absence of sources with a comparable variety of information for other mahalles, the question is bound to remain unanswered. This transfer of authority was not limited, in Kasap ƒlyas, to the sole issue of the recording and validation of marriages. A number of other duties that the imam had been traditionally performing for centuries were also taken over by the muhtar.
One of these traditional duties of the imam concerns the payments to be made to the müezzin of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque. In the 1880s the müezzin of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque was Ahmet Efendi. He was then living in a vakıf house at 52 Samatya Street, and was receiving a salary from another local pious foundation, the trustee of both of these vakıfs being the imam, Mehmet Necati Efendi. The payment of a salary to the müezzin out of the revenues of a local vakıf was a business which, in principle, concerned nobody but the trustee of the relevant foundation and the payee. In case of a conflict between them, the competent judicial authority was either the religious judge, the kadı, and his substitute (naib) or, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the newly established Ministry of Pious Foundations (Evkaf Nezâreti). No one else could have a say in the affairs concerning pious foundations.
What we see in the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle, however, runs contrary to this principle and reveals the existence of decisive interventions on the part of the muhtar. His notebooks contain traces of payments made by the imam of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque to the müezzin thereto attached. The müezzin of the
mosque had, for a number of years, made and signed a statement of receipt in the muhtar’s notebooks. Here are two examples: “I hereby declare to have received from the Holy mosque my whole salary for the year 1304. Signed and sealed: Müezzin Ahmet, 27 February 1304 [March 11 1889].”41 “I have received from the hand of the imam all my salary for the year 1307. Signed: Müezzin Ahmet, 1 March 1307 [13 March 1892].”42 The vakıf of the Kasap ƒlyas mosque, by the hands of it trustee, the imam of the same mosque, was paying a salary to the person performing the office of müezzin, and this
transaction was being recorded by the muhtar, a person who, in principle, should have had nothing to do with the transaction. Besides, the muhtar had also noted down the precise “address” of the transaction (“3 Cami-i ¥erif Street”) and this “address” was that of the mosque itself. The imam, as an
employer of sorts, and the müezzin, his employee, got together in their usual “workplace” and the salary was paid in the presence of a witness, the muhtar, who kept the signed voucher of the paycheck.
If this had been an ordinary commercial transaction or a usual work contract between a firm and a worker, we would say that the muhtar had then fulfilled the function of a notary. And he often did so, as a matter-of-fact, in various financial agreements between two members of the local community.
As we shall see, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas did take upon himself the responsibility of performing a large number of public duties that turned him into a community leader, almost in the modern sense of the term. But in this precise case, there is clearly an
encroachment of his secular power and authority into what is an otherwise strictly religious domain.
Contrary to all expectations, the trustee of a pious foundation and the müezzin, both of them clerics, did not choose, in order to register a transaction that obviously fell within the domain of the Islamic/Ottoman law of foundations, either the sharia’ court or the Ministry of Pious Foundations.
They selected somebody they knew personally well, the muhtar, that is, the newly established and strictly “secular” and “modern” local headman of Kasap ƒlyas. The muhtar of Kasap ƒlyas was both registering and authenticating marriages, and contributing to the regulation of the financial arrangements between the imam and the müezzin. The critical point here is that this re- structuring of the muhtar’s field of authority seems to have involved no resistance on the part of the imam of Kasap ƒlyas. The whole picture is one of cooperation, not of competition or conflict.
The modernizing administrative reforms of the Tanzimat period, which tried to recentralize the Ottoman state apparatus had, as a corollary, the progressive elimination of the traditional local centers of authority.43 As to the new and “secular” local administrative structures designed to replace them,
they probably met with varied success. There were certainly many problems of local implementation; many conflicts of authority did occur, and so did functional overlaps and redundancies, gray areas with a conflictual potential.
What we observe in Kasap ƒlyas, however, is a case in apparently peaceful and cooperative transition. The traditional local leader recognized the administrative authority of the newly appointed local headman and he managed to insert some of the religious functions of the traditional leader into a new and secularized administrative framework.
This final configuration may well have been the singularly exceptional product of the personalities of a succession of local protagonists, and of their very particular rapport. Was it the imam of Kasap ƒlyas who acquiesced to the “secularization” of some of his traditional functions, or was it the muhtar who
acquired some religious functions? The question may lack an answer. What we can not exclude, at all events, is that what happened in Kasap ƒlyas might well have been a very special case, a sui generis instance of transition cum peaceful cohabitation.

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