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Meet a Fellow: Mohammed Allehbi

Posted by on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 in Robert Penn Waren Center.

Mohammed Allehbi is the 2020-2021 George J. Graham Jr. Graduate Student Fellow from the Department of History. A sixth-year Ph.D. student in medieval Islamic history, his research focuses on the late Abbasid era.

What is your research about and why does it matter?

My dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the legal rift and political-divide at the heart of criminal justice in the pre-modern Islamic world (700 to 1200 CE).  In the late eighth century, the rulers of the Islamic Middle East, when faced with rapid urbanization and challenges to their legal sovereignty, gave almost complete control of the punitive sphere to their military officers— at the expense of the judiciary.

This jurisdictional rupture by political forces transformed the social structure all the way down to the instruction roots of law and normative discourse. While the judiciary followed a religious jurisprudential framework known as sharīʿa (sacred law), shurṭa (criminal magistrates) adhered to a political-administrative one known from the tenth century as siyāsa (governmental law). These criminal magistrates were judge, jury and executioner.

After this break, the institutional separation and its accompanying discourses persisted throughout subsequent societies in various forms, even up until the eighteenth-century Ottoman. Such a development allows us to witness the metamorphosis of law and its enforcement in a contested realm of sovereignty.

Describe a discovery or a moment in your research that excited you.

A wonderful moment in my research was discovering the link between expansion of premodern law enforcement and urbanization that has not been discussed before. As the medieval city of Baghdad grew into a diverse metropolis with an estimated population of 280,000, the imperial elite corps dramatically transformed as a result. In response to urban stresses, crimes and a distinct geography divided by Euphrates and Tigris rivers of Iraq, a compartmentalization of criminal and policing materialized in response.

The government built two criminal magisterial headquarters on each side of the city, police centers in each of the four quarters and outposts in each neighborhood, with multiple prisons and underground dungeons throughout the city; and they instituted a curfew accompanied by constant patrols. These developments in law enforcement were also paralleled in two other pre-modern great cities: Imperial Rome and Constantinople.

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn from it? 

My first job was as a transaction employee in a prestigious firm, Ernst & Young, and it taught me an important lesson: that the most difficult work is one that you have no interest or passion for. I owe much to that career experience because it pushed me to pursue the humanities, and history which was my first love.