Islamic Law in Norman Sicily

From the mid 11th to the mid 13th century, southern Italy and Sicily were ruled by the Norman family of De Hauteville. Their kingdom is famous for two bodies of royal legislation written in Latin: the Assises of King Roger, issued in circa 1140, and the Liber Augustalis, promulgated by Roger’s grandson, Frederick, II in 1231. Historians have claimed these to be “a milestone in European legal history” (Pennington), the foundation of “the first modern state” (Haskins), and the basis of a “model state” governed by a policy of political and religious toleration (Marongiù).

Prof. Johns’s current ERC-funded research project, Documenting Multiculturalism, employs the administrative and legal documents of Norman Sicily, written in Arabic, Greek, Judaeo-Arabic and Latin, to scrutinize such extravagant claims. His lecture focuses upon the operation of Islamic law under Norman rule. From 1060 until the early 1220s, the majority of the population of the island of Sicily were Arabic-speaking Muslims who attempted to live according to Islamic law. How, in the age of the Crusades, did Islamic law operate under Christian rule in Sicily? What, if any, influence did Islamic law have upon Norman administration, government and legislation? Why did royal law ultimately fail to protect the Muslims of Norman Sicily so that, before 1250, both the Muslim community and Islamic law had completely disappeared from the island?