Istanbul hosted two great collections of law that occupy a significant place in the legal history of world. The first one was Corpus Juris Civilis which was a compilation of Roman law, and the other one was Majalla al-Ahkam al-Adliyya which was a compilation of Islamic law. Both of them were prepared in Istanbul.
Majalla al-Ahkam al-Adliyya is a code of law that was prepared between 1868-1876 in the Ottoman State. It mostly covers property law, law of obligations, and procedural law. It is known that some fundamental changes took place in the area of codification after the period of Tanzimat. Some of these changes appeared in the form of codification of Islamic law, while some others were carried out in the form of partial or complete adaptation from western laws. Majalla al-Ahkam al-Adliyya is a codification based on Islamic law and has a special importance because it was the first one in this field. In that respect, it started the period of codification in the history of Islamic law, pioneered, and became an example for the codes prepared by the other Muslim countries.
The members who were appointed to the commercial, civil, and criminal courts that tried the cases before multiple judges (Nizamiya courts) as well as Shar‘iyya courts that heard the cases before one judge (courts of nisi prius) after Tanzimat Period did not have enough legal knowledge. On the other hand, in addition to classical madrasas, a law school called Muallimhana-i Nuvvab was opened in 1854, and a branch for legal education was opened in Galatasary Mekteb-i Sultanisi in order to meet the need for qualified legal experts. Of course, these schools could not meet the need for legal experts in the whole empire. Moreover, because some of the judges working at Nizamiya courts were non-Muslim, they had no knowledge of Islamic law at all. This was why a need for new codes of law written in Turkish that all the members of the court could use was emerged.
On the other hand, in time, various views emerged in Hanafi school of law and this fact sometimes caused trouble for the judges to choose the most applicable and correct one among those views. To overcome this problem could only be possible by collecting and codifying the legal views in one single compilation.
Industrial Revolution that took place in the west multiplied the amount of production, which increased the number of commercial activities and diversified their types. The intensity of commercial activities incomparable to the earlier periods required new legal regulations in the areas of law of obligations and commercial law. All of these reasons brought the issue of codification into the agenda. There were two basic views emerged regarding how to prepare the new code. Some state officials led by grand vizier Âlî Paşa supported the view in favor of adopting French Civil Code, while some statesmen such as Ahmed Cevdet Paşa and Fuad Paşa wanted to codify Islamic law. The French were applying serious pressure for the adoption of their codes. Finally, Ahmed Cevdet Paşa’s view outbalanced. A committee under his presidency (Majalla Society) was established and Majalla preparations started. The first section of Majalla was published on April 20, 1969 and the last section was published on September 15, 1876. Therefore, Majalla became complete in a period of slightly longer than seven years.
Majalla consists of an introduction and sixteen chapters including 1851 articles. In the 100-article introductory section, there are ninety-nine legal maxims (general principles) in addition to an article about the definition of Islamic law. The legal maxims are general legal principles that have developed in time out of Islamic legal literature through casuistic methodology. They provide a better understanding of the other normative rules within the entirety of Islamic law. The sixteen chapters covers essentially law of obligations and partially property law and procedural law. Thus, Majalla does not have all features of a civil law. The titles of sixteen chapters of Majalla are as follows: 1. Kitab al-Buyu‘ (Sales), 2. Kitab al-Ijarat (Rent and Hire), 3. Kitab al-Kafala (Sureties), 4. Kitab al-Hawala (Transfer of Debt), 5. Kitab al-Rahn (Pledges) 6. Kitab al-Amanat (Trust and Trusteeship), 7. Kitab al-Hiba (Gifts), 8. Kitab al-Ghasb wa Itlaf (Wrongful Appropriation and Destruction), 9. Kitab al-Hajr, İkrah wa Shuf‘a (Interdiction, Constraint and Pre-emption), 10. Kitab al-Shirkat (Joint Ownership), 11. Kitab al-Wakalat (Agency), 12. Kitab al-Sulh wa Ibra (Settlement and Release), 13. Kitab al-Iqrar (Admissions), 14. Kitab al-Dawa (Actions), 15. Kitab al-Bayyinat (Evidence and Administration of an Oath), 16. Kitab al-Qada (Administration of Justice by the Courts).
Majalla has a plain and simple language compared to its contemporary texts. Many of its articles begins with a normative part followed by examples explaining the subject. Moreover, at the beginning of each chapter, there are definitions about that specific chapter.
Majalla remained in force in all Ottoman courts except the ones in Egypt and Arabian Peninsula. After the collapse of Ottoman State, it remained in force in modern Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine for a while more. Until it prepared the laws that substituted certain sections of Majalla, the state of Israel kept it in force. Today Majalla is one of the most applied sources by the courts in West Bank and Gaza that constitute the state of Palestine.
Majalla, which is the second great legal compilation prepared in Istanbul, (the first one is Corpus Iuris Civilis a compilation of Roman law) is a source that is frequently and safely referred by contemporary Muslim jurists. Many commentaries have been written on it and it has been translated in many Eastern and Western languages including Turkish, Arabic, French, English, German, Greek, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Urdu, and Malay.