The Mejelle is a particularly promising legal source for the development of the Islamic law of finance and commerce. The purposes stated by the document itself are at least as relevant today in developing Islamic commercial law as they were under Ottoman rule: set out the commercial elements of Islamic law, compile a body of accepted opinion, reduce the law to a concise and convenient re-statement, and obviate the necessity of re-iterating the law for each transaction or legal action.

‘For this reason if a book be made, easy to understand, about the practical part of the Sher (Fiqh) [Islamic law] dealing with transactions between people, to include accepted opinions only, which are free from dispute, every one will study with facility and will refer his transactions to it, and also if there is a book which is small and conveniently arranged, there will be great benefits for the naibs, and the members of the Nizam Courts, and the government administrative officials, who as a consequence of being qualified by the study of the Sher, Law, to the best of their ability, when it is required to do so. And further the book being held in esteem and conformed to in the Sher Court, it will become unnecessary to frame Laws for civil suits…’ (xxvi)

The Mejelle served as the Civil Code of the Ottoman Empire (1877-1926) and it remains residual code for some Arab jurisdictions today. Just as the purpose of Islamic financial law is to distinguish itself from conventional financial law (which does not purport to follow or conform to Islamic principles or rules), the Mejelle left behind efforts to adopt European law at the cost of excluding Islamic law from the law of the land. Such an effort was made earlier in the nineteenth century (and would be made again with the abolition of the Ottoman Empire, and in the post-colonial Arab states). A leading document exemplifying this attempt was the Gülhane Decree of 1839.

The Mejelle (see its Table of Contents) sets out the nominate contracts central to Islamic commercial law: sales, leasing, pledge and guaranty, debt and its assignment or transfer, gift, partnership, agency, and a concluding part with a chapter on arbitration.

The pages cited above and throughout UK Islamic Finance Law refer to an English translation (The Other Press Sdn Bhd, 2007).

The book was originally written in Ottoman Turkish, then translated into Arabic and other languages. The Latinized spelling of the Ottoman Turkish title rather than that of the transliterated Arabic is followed here.