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Presented By: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)

MEMS Lecture. A Custody Dispute between a Habashi Slave and her Jewish Owner; Issues of Gender and Ethnic/Racial Identity in Medieval Egypt

Carl F. Petry, Northwestern University

Prof. Carl Petry Prof. Carl Petry
Prof. Carl Petry
The chronicler of the late Mamluk period and early Ottoman occupation of Egypt, Ibn Iyas, reported a child custody dispute between an Ethiopian female slave (Ḥabashiyya) and her Jewish owner, a senior official of the Mint, that occurred in 928H/1522CE. This lecture will address the slave’s audacious appeal before the chief Maliki Qadi of Cairo for personal manumission on the basis of her own conversion to Islam, and invalidation of any claim over her infant daughter by the Jewish father, who sought to maintain his licit and communal rights as a parent and as a Jew. The case is considered in light of opinions by legal (Sharīʿa) scholars about the upbringing of children born to parents of differing religions. The lecture also places this dispute in the larger context of racial identity, and controversies over preferences to ‘blackness’ in writings contemporary to the Mamluk period.

Carl F. Petry: Is the Hamad ibn Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Middle East Studies emeritus, Department of History, Northwestern University. His research focuses on pre-modern Egypt, with emphasis on political economy. He has published: The Civilian Elite of Cairo in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton, 1982); Twilight of Majesty: the Reigns of the Mamluk Sultans al-Ashraf Qaytbay and Qansuh al-Ghawri in Egypt (U. Washington, 1993); Protectors or Praetorians? The Last Mamluk Sultans and Egypt’s Waning as a Great Power (S.U.N.Y., 1994); The Criminal Underworld in a Medieval Islamic Society: Narratives from Cairo under the Mamluks (Middle East Documentation Center, U. Chicago, 2012); The Mamluk Sultanate—A History (Cambridge University Press, 2022). He has edited and contributed to The Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517 C.E. (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Teaching interests range from gender relations in the Islamic Middle Ages to Revolutionary Egypt under Nasser and Sadat.

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