New in Paper
"Off the Straight Path"
Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo
"This groundbreaking study raises a number of important
questions and is a major step toward opening the path for further
research in this area by legal, social, and gender historians."—International Journal of Middle East Studies
" ‘Off the Straight Path’ will be of interest to a wide variety of scholars
interested in Ottoman history, social norms and deviance, and
those concerned with Muslim histories of sexuality and gender."—Journal of Islamic Studies
"A highly original work on adultery, immorality, and offences against public order
in the Ottoman Empire, with empirical evidence from Aleppo, one of the Empire’s major provincial capitals."—Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
"This work could easily become standard
reading for any number of courses on gender,
law, Middle East studies, and Ottoman
Elyse Semerdjian is associate professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern history and director
of Global Studies at Whitman College. A Fulbright Scholar, her articles have appeared in
Hawwa. She is a contributor to Beyond the Exotic: Women’s Histories in Islamic Societies,
also published by Syracuse University Press.
Book Description »[Close »]
The legal treatment of sexual behavior is a subject that receives little scholarly
attention in the field of Middle East women’s studies. Important questions about
the relationship between sexuality and the law and about the societies enforcing
that relationship are rarely addressed in current literature. Semerdjian’s "Off the
Straight Path" takes a bold step toward filling that gap by offering a fascinating
look at the historical progression of the treatment of illicit sex under Islamic law.
Semerdjian provides a comprehensive review of the concept of zina, that
is, sexual indiscretion, by exploring the diverse interpretation of zina crime as
presented in a variety of sources from the Qur’an and hadith to legal literature.
She then delves into the history of legal responses to zina within the specific
community of Aleppo, Syria. Drawing on a wealth of shari’a court records, Semerdjian
provides a realistic view of Syrian society during the Ottoman period.
With vivid detail, she describes specific women’s lives and experiences as their
cases are presented before the court. Semerdjian argues that the actual treatment
of zina crimes in the courts differs substantially from sentences prescribed
by codified Islamic jurisprudence. In contrast to the violent corporal punishments
dictated in the Islamic legal code, the courts often punished crimes of
sexual indiscretion with nonviolent sentences, such as removal from the community.
Employing exceptional insight, "Off the Straight Path" presents a powerful
challenge to the traditional view of Islamic law, enabling a richer understanding
of Islamic society.
View other series books on Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East.
6 x 9, 288 pages, 10 black-and-white illustrations, 4 maps, 7 tables, notes, bibliography, index