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Products for grant FEL-257846-18

Islam and the Spice Trade from Venice to India in the 13th to 16th Centuries
Joel Blecher, George Washington University

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Scholars, Spice Traders, and Sultans: Arguing over the Alms-Tax in the Mamluk Era In: Islamic Law and Society (Article)
Title: Scholars, Spice Traders, and Sultans: Arguing over the Alms-Tax in the Mamluk Era In: Islamic Law and Society
Author: Joel Blecher
Abstract: Amidst the politics of the Mamluk-era spice route, why did the standard-bearers of Islamic law routinely oppose the sultanate’s imposition of an alms-tax on merchandise (zakāt al-tijāra), despite the abundance of support for such a tax within the classical tradition of Islamic law? Rather than contending – as some modern scholars have – that prominent jurists developed loopholes that circumvented the original intent of the law to protect the wealthy and the ruling class, I argue that it was precisely the jurists’ careful defense of exemptions and exclusions that allowed them to define the essence of zakāt against forms of taxation they considered unlawful. By narrowing the scope of zakāt, jurists attempted to achieve a moral aim that went beyond the ritual purification of wealth: a limit on the sultanate’s otherwise arbitrary power to tax Muslims as it wished. In doing so, they alleviated some of the tax burden for spice merchants and camel herders alike.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Access Model: Subscription only
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Islamic Law and Society
Publisher: Brill

Trading Knowledge in the “Global Middle Ages” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Trading Knowledge in the “Global Middle Ages”
Author: Joel Blecher
Abstract: How did knowledge—in both elite and popular forms—move across land, seas, and oceans before the onset of modern globalization? And how did the transmission of knowledge interplay with long-distance trade routes, flows of commodities, capital, and other forms of economic and diplomatic exchange? This panel puts into conversation a set of comparative but concrete case studies of the transmission of knowledge that spans the maritime trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Seas in the late middle ages. It defines knowledge and the mode of its circulation very broadly, as participants explore how secular, religious, and cultural knowledge was transmitted from a variety of methodological tools: archeology of shipwrecks, textual studies of medical literature, the history of painting, and the diplomatic history of Venetian-Ottoman relations. In doing so, this panel should attract a wide audience of pre-modern historians working across a number of regions and scholarly approaches. One through-line that can be found in each of the panelists' presentations—which will be an informal discussion of works-in-progress—is the role played by Islamic historical actors and institutions in shuttling knowledge around the globe. Another commonality shared across these studies is that the finding that the transmission of objects—gifts, commodities, books, and portraits—also required the transmission of knowledge and expertise on the meanings and functions of those objects in the new regions and cultures to which they were transported. This panel will conclude with a comment from a leading scholar in the field who will respond to the themes that connect the individual papers as well as interrogate the framework of ‘the Global Middle Ages’ itself. This framework was recently proposed in by the journal Medieval Globe, founded in 2014, and then again in a recent thematic volume of Past and Present, 238:13 (2018). How do these two parallel initiatives con
Date: 01/05/2020
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"Connected Histories of the Renaissance" (Conference/Institute/Seminar)
Title: "Connected Histories of the Renaissance"
Author: Joel Blecher
Abstract: A preview of the forthcoming book on Islam and the Spice for "Connected Histories of the Renaissance," a summer Institute at Georgetown University for K-12 teachers.
Date Range: 08/03/2020
Location: Zoom (hosted by Georgetown)

Abstract: Shipwrecks, smuggling, and… Islam? What if we retold the story of the spice trade—oft appreciated as a catalyst for Europe’s “Age of Discovery”—through the eyes of the late medieval Muslim merchants and scholars who mixed Islam and business across the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean? And what might the maritime corridor that linked the world of the 13th-16th centuries have to teach us about the “moral economy” in Islamic thought, and the complex relationship between religion and the birth of global capitalism more broadly? Offering a preview of his second book project, Joel Blecher will take up these questions by examining a few episodes from this understudied chapter in the history of Islam and explain why it can help us better understand our world today.
Author: Joel Blecher
Date: 10/21/19
Location: University of Florida
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