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Sharia and Ottoman Family Law

The traditional Islamic legal code, the Sharia, was at the heart of Ottoman family law.

The Sharia governs marriage, divorce and inheritance. The core of marriage is a contract between two parties. The content of this contract is left to the parties to determine, but traditionally includes a dowry a sum of money that is given from the groom to the bride, which remains her property throughout marriage. The husband is required to provide housing for the family, which remains his individual property. The woman is required to obey her husband. Economic responsibilities fall on the husband, who must provide for the wife and children according to specific rules. A child born to a married couple is considered to be the husband's child.

Islamic law permits a man to have up to four wives. The relevant passage of the Koran states that a man is required to treat all of his wives equally. Some theologians argue that treating four wives equally is beyond human ability, and therefore implicitly forbidden to men other than the Prophet himself. Others argue that the context of the passage makes it clear that the purpose of polygamy is to care for widows and orphans in time of war.

The Sharia permits the dissolution of failing marriages. While the husband only needs to say "I divorce you" three times, a wife seeking for divorce is required to ask her husband to dissolve the marriage. If he refuses, she must go to court and request a judge to do so. Rules on divorce vary in different Islamic legal schools.

Family relations in Turkey were governed by the Sharia until the first codified family law was promulgated in the Ottoman Empire in 1917. Yet, this new family law was stilllargely based on the Sharia. Some of the changes included raising the female minimum age of marriage to 17. It legalised polygamy, but gave the wife a right to sue for divorce if her husband took another wife.

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