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“Boy and Girl on Equal Terms”: Women, Waqf and Wealth Transmission in Mamluk Egypt

Abstract : The paper aims at reappraising the position of women in wealth holding and transmission among the elite families of Mamluk Egypt. It is based on sample surveys of the bulk of legal documents, both sale and endowment deeds mainly dating from the ninth/fifteenth century, nowadays preserved in Cairo. It argues that at a time of high mortality rates, frequent widowhood and remarriage, the Islamic law of inheritance proved to be particularly protective for the female relatives of a male deceased. In such a context, pious endowment (waqf) was not only an option among others in the management of estates, but was used as an alternative, albeit legal, channel of wealth transmission in order to escape the law of inheritance and its adverse effects. In this respect, elite families of Mamluk Egypt, were they of local or foreign background, used to share the same concerns and values about family, as evidenced by the extensive use of the same form in their endowment deeds, while dealing with the attribution of their waqf’s surplus income. This standard form, which is not to be found in contemporary notarial handbooks such as al-Asyūṭī’s Jawāhir al-ʿUqūd, sheds some light on the effective asset strategies of the ninth/fifteenth Egyptian elites. The “chosen family” it outlines shows several discrepancies to the legal norms of inheritance, as for instance the exclusion from wealth transmission of the deceased’s widow(s) and of the children she/they might have after remarriage, and moreover the equal treatment of boys and girls in the attribution to the founder’s descendants of his/her waqf’s surplus income. The Cairene legal documents also reveal to what extent women were playing all roles in dealing with the holding and transmission of wealth in Mamluk society.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 11:37:23 PM
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Julien Loiseau. “Boy and Girl on Equal Terms”: Women, Waqf and Wealth Transmission in Mamluk Egypt. Orient, 2019, Family in the Mamluk Period, 54, pp.23-39. ⟨hal-02116478⟩



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