Qanun is an Arabic word (Arabic: قانون, qānūn; Ottoman Turkish: قانون, kānūn, derived from Ancient Greek: κανών kanōn, which is also the root for the modern English word "canon"). It can refer to laws established by Muslim sovereigns, in particular the body of administrative, economic and criminal law promulgated by Ottoman sultans, in contrast to sharia, the body of law elaborated by Muslim jurists. It is thus frequently translated as "dynastic law". The idea of kanun first entered the Muslim World in the thirteenth century, as it was borrowed from the Mongol Empire in the aftermath of their invasions. The 10th sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman was known in the Ottoman Empire as Suleiman Kanuni ("the Lawgiver"), due to his code of laws.
After the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, a practice known to the Turks and Mongols transformed itself into qanun, which gave power to caliphs, governors, and sultans alike to "make their own regulations for activities not addressed by the sharia." This became increasingly important as the Middle East started to modernize, thus running into the problems of a modern state, which were not covered by sharia. The Qanun began to unfold as early as Umar I (586–644 CE). Many of the regulations covered by qanun were based on financial matters or tax systems adapted through the law and regulations of those territories Islam conquered.
The term ḳānūn derives itself from the Greek word κανών. Originally having the less abstract meaning of “any straight rod” it then later referred to any “measure or rule” in Greek. The word was then translated into and adopted by the Arabic language after the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Egypt under Sultan Selim I (ca. 1516). In the Ottoman empire, the term ḳānūn still carried the word’s original meanings of a system of tax regulation. However, it later came to also refer to “code of regulations” or “state law”, a well-defined secular distinction to “Muslim law” known as the s̲h̲arīʿa. The ḳānūn took on significant importance during the period of modernization in the Ottoman Empire. The ḳānūn and s̲h̲arīʿa did not contradict each other concerning administrative matters, and therefore the ḳānūn was assimilated easily into Ottoman regulatory functions. The ḳānūn promulgated by Ottoman sultans also came to be used for financial and penal law. Under Sultan Mehmed II (1451-1481) the ḳānūn continued to be strictly applied for these practices. However due to the influence of Abu ʾl-Suʿūd, grand muftī of Istanbul from 1545 to 1574 the ḳānūn was applied to deal with matters concerning property rights as well. Previously, property rights were exclusively under the jurisdiction of the s̲h̲arīʿa. Despite this seeming contradiction, due to skillful bureaucratic operations, the ḳānūn and the s̲h̲arīʿa existed harmoniously. The ḳānūn has retained its relevance in the Middle East regarding civil, commercial, administrative, and penal laws that were inspired by originally Western legislation. It also has an influence in the ways that provisions of the s̲h̲arīʿa are reproduced.
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