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islamic city

It is also usually understood, in the context of the same paradigm, that the guilds in Islamic cities did not essentially function as organizations defending the interests of craftsmen. Given the general weakness of urban organizations in Islamic lands, the guilds would be functioning basically as a means of supervising and taxing craftsmen, who would otherwise have totally escaped governmental control.15 This centrally controlled rigid guild structure would then obviously have impeded the appearance of a class of “free” laborers, the social basis for industrialization and for capital accumulation. The administrative rigidity of the guilds’ organization, another pillar of the “Islamic City” paradigm, will be clearly seen, in the case of Kasap ƒlyas, to be more an illusion than a reality. The fluidity and permeability of guild and nonguild activities will be illustrated by the fruit and vegetable peddlers who had been living for centuries in Kasap ƒlyas.
The haras or mahallas of some Arab or Middle Eastern cities, such as those of Cairo or Aleppo, were often barred by gates that had to be shut at night, a fact taken as a handy physical demonstration of the segmentation of Islamic urban structures. As to the borders of the various city quarters of Istanbul, or those of any other Turkish Anatolian city for that matter, let alone being physically barred, they were never even strictly drawn or well defined.16 Over the centuries, there were orders issued by the kadı of Istanbul, especially in times of political trouble, demanding that the population construct gates to protect their mahalles from outside aggressions. But these rulings were never fully implemented, or only haphazardly.
As exemplified by the Kasap ƒlyas mahalle and by its adjacent neighbors, the areas of the traditional Istanbul neighborhoods have always been somewhat imprecise and fluid. The mahalle was essentially a basic urban community defined by a dense web of relationships, before being a “ward,” a local
administrative unit.
As to the continuum in local consciousness in Ottoman Istanbul, it may well be due not to any pre-set internal homogeneity, but to the very peculiar functional and topographical constraints which, from the very beginning, besieged almost all quarters of the Ottoman capital-city. The fact that the continuity in the topographic and administrative makeup of the capital-city of the Ottoman Empire implied a rigidity neither in the number nor in the human and social composition or the economic and social function of each of its cells is perhaps a further challenge to the essentialist notion of a clearly defined, archetypal, and immutable “Islamic city.”
The resilience and the physical and social flexibility of our particular city quarter needs explanation, when viewed over a number of centuries. That the small Kasap ƒlyas neighborhood had the capacity and contained a multisecular mechanism designed to absorb rural migrants and integrate newcomers is striking enough. The fact that, in the last four centuries, it has more or less successfully survived a number of devastating fires, earthquakes, political instability, changes in the economic fortunes of Istanbul, and nineteenth-century throes of modernization must be a sign of its power of adaptation. Ottoman/ Turkish cities were not amorphous conglomerates of homogenous, rigid, and isolated town quarters or guilds. The apparent lack of formal urban institutions before the nineteenth century signifies neither that townsmen had no means of articulating their specific interests, nor that particular public cultures, of the sort that the legacy of the “Islamic city” typology has contributed
to obscure, did not exist.
True, no Muslim Istanbul neighborhood could exist or survive without a minimal level of autarkic organization centered around a mosque (and with a public fountain, a few shops, perhaps a school or a public bath, etc.). From that trivial fact to the notion of a city made up of homogenous and uniform
cellular units, there is, however, a huge step which, if taken, will wear away much of the historical variety that characterized Ottoman cities and neighborhoods. We would suggest that any attempt at devising a normative “Ottoman neighborhood” or producing a programmatic “Istanbul mahalle” is
bound to lose much factual wealth and historical variety. In organizing research into local history around such clichés as “integration,” “local autarky,” “staticness,” or “topographical fragmentation” we would elude many issues. Much information would be put away by the a priori submission to such
bulky concepts.
This book does not pretend to provide a paradigm to rival the idea of the Islamic city, and to replace one norm or one archetype by another. If anything, we would argue, in the context of Islamic/Ottoman/Middle Eastern cities, against any essentialist reductionism and in favor of the irreducible historical singularity not only of each city, but of each of its bits and pieces.
The contribution of such a microstudy to the debate would be to show, perhaps, that not only the cities of Arab, Islamic, and Ottoman lands themselves, but also their topographical or functional or social constituent parts (i.e., the neighborhoods, haras, or mahalles) too, cannot be made to fit into
a set of fundamentally unique and ghettoizing characteristics.

Social and urban historians of Istanbul have often stressed the idea that these mahalles, however diverse they may have been, defined on the whole a static configuration, typical of most precapitalist urban populations.8 The mahalle is implicitly taken to be not only a basic level of social integration but also a community characterized by a high amount of autarky and an almost builtin inability to move. This static picture of the human topography of Istanbul intra muros is usually taken to mean, first, that the numbers, areas, and composition of the residential mahalles were well-defined and relatively stable, and, second, that the restricted mobility of the population implied some rigidity in the ethnic/religious makeup of each of the neighborhoods.
The absoluteness of the ethnic, religious, and functional divisions embedded in the topographical makeup of the city, its cellular structure, and the absence of interpenetration between the ethnic and religious constituents were also used for claiming the existence of a specific and typical Islamic urban model, an archetypal Islamic City. The functional articulation of various parts of the city, the use of public space, and its overall architectural and urbanistic consequences (the functional triangle consisting of the mosque, the market, and the public bath) were also taken to have an unequivocal and unique connection to this model. Often even the sheer physical shape of the Islamic city was taken to be an unequivocal expression of its social structure, just an external sign of a system of law, social ethics, and social institutions.
The presence of ruling elites that distantiate themselves from the population at large, the general lack of urban political autonomy and of oppositional political initiatives coming from the cities in Islamic lands—as opposed to “Western”/European cities—that were attributed to this structure were taken
to be an a posteriori demonstration of the thesis.9 Some proponents of the thesis went as far as denying the existence of any sort of permanent formal institutions within the Islamic city and of any sort of corporate personality within which there might grow up an exclusive solidarity that could take
precedence over the community of “believers at large,” the umma.10 The thesis on the existence of an essentially “Islamic city” was, for a long time, surrounded by the prestige and aura of its first proponent, none less than Max Weber himself. Weber had, in fact, adduced no historical evidence
worthy of that name to support his thesis. His idea, however, was taken up by, and integrated into, other worldviews such as “Orientalism” or the “worldeconomy/world-system” paradigm. These two were obviously in dire need of defining (albeit sketchily, and notwithstanding the teleological vision involved), some overarching urban similarities that would account for the decline or
“peripheralization” of Ottoman, “Islamic,” and Middle Eastern cities in the nineteenth century. A classical Islamic scholar, Gustav von Grunebaum, came to the rescue in the 1950s, filled up Weber’s historical lacunae with religious and philological scholarship and, for all practical purposes, codified the concept of the Islamic city for the coming decades, and it became part of a more general typology of urban forms.11 The same codification had also been applied in the 1930s and 1940s to North African Muslim towns by the French Islamists William and Georges Marçais.12 The Eurocentric Weberian framework on urban development in Islamic lands received a more nuanced interpretation in the hands of such scholars as Ira Lapidus and Albert Hourani.13 While sharing with Weber and von Grunebaum the basic view of a disaggregated and vertically segmented typical Islamic urban structure that lacked the elements of a true civil society, these historians had a more nuanced view of the politics and governance of these cities. They admitted the historical existence of a group of denizens who could, under certain circumstances and by common consent, come to represent an (almost European) civic community spirit, a strictly local ‘asabiyya.
For a number of reasons, most of them concerning the available historical sources, scholars have so far considered the (North African as well as Middle Eastern) Arab case as the normative type of “Islamic city,” although Anatolian and other Ottoman towns, and even Istanbul, have also been envisaged within the same paradigm.
More recent studies, however, while seeking neither to question nor to support the long-standing paradigm of the Islamic city have, first and foremost, tried to diversify their historical perspective by using a larger variety of local sources. Recent historical work tends to focus on the diversity of situ-
ations and on the singularity of urban societies in Islamic lands and in the eastern Mediterranean. Efforts are made to situate and represent a greater diversity of ethnic, religious, local, and professional identities. Scholars now rightfully insist not only on the singularity of each Ottoman city, but also on that of each of their constituent parts. As Lapidus candidly wrote in an article published in 1973: “When we speak of Muslim cities, we do not speak of a special type of city society, but we refer to the predominant religious and cultural identifications of their inhabitants and the institutions built around these identifications.”14
In the residential quarters of Istanbul, settlement patterns did traditionally follow religious and ethnic lines. Socioeconomic determinants of housing patterns were, for centuries, of only secondary importance. The class- or income-based differentiation of the urban fabric did not take hold of Istanbul before well into the twentieth century. But from this observation to the idea that these residential patterns were, before the twentieth century, either frozen or at least largely predictable, there is a huge step that the proponents of this thesis would not hesitate to take. The reality is, as we shall see in the case of Kasap ƒlyas, that even in times of relative demographic stability, even before the “long” nineteenth century, both the population of Istanbul and of the traditional residential neighborhoods were in considerable flux. The demarcation lines between mahalles were never so strict and the horizontal mobility of the residents was much higher than is usually admitted. At the local level, mobility and change seem to have been the rule, not the exception.

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