Friday, February 9, 2018

Irrigation rights in medieval Islam

Barada River in Damascus
Yehoshua Frenkel, a professor at University of Haifa and member of our local environmental history forum, recently pointed me to a 2011 chapter by Boaz Shoshan on water law, "Mini-Dramas by the Water: On Irrigation Rights and Disputes in Fifteenth-Century Damsacus". The abstract:
Apart from discussions of matters of irrigation in legal works, medieval sources provide us with little information on the human dynamics and social interaction that are an integral part of irrigation systems. Some cases involving water were straightforward, whereas others were not. A laconic statement about a settlement (ṣulḥ) that was reached in Muḥarram 886/March 1481, in the presence of the viceroy of Damascus and the chief qāḍīs, between one Kamāl al-Dīn and Shihāb al-Dīn al-Muḥawjib concerning water that was coercively (zulman) diverted from the al-Manshīya river canal, provides us with only a faint echo about such conflict. Fortunately, on other occasions of water disputes Ibn Tawq paints a more detailed picture that allows some idea about their nature. This chapter discusses such disputes.
Shoshan is mostly interested in the social dynamics of the water disputes, but he also notes this information about the law "in the books":
That codifying regulations of water supply was a desideratum in the medieval Islamic world may be concluded from the Persian Kitāb-i Qāni ("The book of Qānāt"), written possibly in the eleventh century A.D., which purpose was to protect owners of subterranean aqueducts, that is, sub-surface canals that were engineered to collect ground water and direct it through a gently sloping underground conduit to surface canals.

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