Why did medieval Islamic polities permit non-Muslims to develop their own institutions of communal governance, and even actively encourage those institutions’ autonomy from the state? The historiography on Jewish communal autonomy is particularly well-developed, so it can help advance inquiries into other religious communities. But that scholarship also tends to take Jewish communal autonomy–as well as Jewish officials’ influence over other Jews–for granted rather than explaining it. Documents from the Cairo Geniza offer a fine-grained view of both sides of the question of why the state permitted communal autonomy and what communities did in order to safeguard it. The documents this article considers include state decrees, petitions and other official records in Arabic script, as well as legal deeds and private letters in Hebrew script.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Religious studies
- Communal autonomy
- Documentary sources
- Jewish communities