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BAZAAR. The Persian word for “market” (bazar) refers to a range of economic and architectural forms from covered bazaars, periodic rural markets, and small neighborhood strips of shops in alleys to abstract under standings of markets as sectors of the economy involved in trade, especially those not under the control of the state banking system. As an occupational structure, the traditional bazaar contains a differentiated network of commission agents, jobbers, hawkers, peddlers, wholesalers, long-distance merchants, brokers, moneychangers, craftsmen and shop assistants (see especially Rotblat, 1972). The bazaar also has a variety of social meanings ranging from class style or outlook (tajirs [large merchants] are often distinguished from bazaris [small shopkeepers]) to modes of social control (located partly in the bazaar’s credit system; partly in the bazaar’s social institutions, such as guilds, mosques, hay’at-i mazhabi [religious circles; on which see Thaiss, 1973] zurkhanahs [traditional gymnasia], and hammams [bathhouses]; and partly in the style of the enforcers of internal policing, who are spoken of in terms of character types-dash, gardankuluft, jahil, awbash, javanmard, agha, ustaz, and shagird) and finally to the moral codes of Islamic discourse-the bazaar as a place of personal jihad (ethical struggle), where services on behalf of the fard al-kifayah (communal good) are performed, and where Islamic codes of commerce at times can be enforced by judicial officers called muhtasibs as well as qadis (judges) or mujtahids (experts in religious law).

These interlocking economic, social, and moral arenas can be elaborated in a variety of ways, given changing social and political circumstances. Many of the covered bazaars were built under the patronage of kings or governors as places where taxes as well as rents could be collected with ease. Some smaller covered bazaars were also constructed by groups of merchants, but the economic form of providing facilities and then charging rents to bazaris is a general one extending to shopping strips along modern streets and boulevards. Rents might often be designated as waqf (revenue for religious endowments), and this has provided one link between the bazaar and the religious establishment. Kings and governors also periodically tried to formalize and use the guild structure as a way of collecting rents and taxes and enforcing political controls. But this was variably successful, with the term for guild (sinf) often decaying into simply a term meaning craft or occupation but not necessarily implying any organization. More often guild structures, when they existed, were autonomous of the state and attempted to regulate competition and disputes among their members. Bakers guilds, for instance, appeared quite frequently, regulating where new shops might be located and which immigrants into a community might be allowed to open a bakery. Bread shops and a few other businesses like butchers or grocers need to be distributed not only in the central bazaar but throughout the city. Other businesses tend to cluster together, so that one gets a cloth bazaar, a blacksmith’s bazaar, and so on. At the center of most traditional bazaars was the banking bazaar, the so-called Qaysariyah (from Caesar), where the sarrafs (money changers), and credit suppliers were located. Often the Qaysariyah had heavy doors that could be closed at night to provide added security. The credit supplied was a mechanism that enforced a hierarchy of control: small merchants would get loans guaranteed by larger merchants. To default on a loan was the ultimate sin; better to get yet another loan even at a usurous rate, because to default is to then be excluded from the system entirely. This hierarchy of control spilled over into social affairs as well through the various religious organizations funded by and manned by the tajirs, bazaris, and craftsmen. For this reason the state would often try to influence or control these organizations. Periodically, in Iran, the Pahlavi regime would attempt to regulate the guilds, the prices, and the traditional gymnasia and their followings of young men. The last time this was tried in any large scale by the Pahlavis was in 1975 during the institution of the single (Rastakhiz) party state, and it lead to an intensification of hostility to the state, a precursor of the mobilization that fed into the revolution of 1977-1979 More successful efforts to regulate the bazaar and the economy affected by the bazaar occurred in periods when the government was willing to consult with producers and traders on costs; other efforts at control proved to be punitive and generated reactions. Bazaris funded not only the mosques and hay’ats within the physical confines of the bazaar, but also religious leaders who would speak out against state policies that negatively affected the bazaar (this was often done to keep alive the various oppositional counters). The hay’ats took various forms, ranging from weekly poetry and Qur’an reading circles to young men’s groups which practiced chants and pious exercises for the religious processions during the month of Muharram. These latter groups, dastah, formed an organization which could be mobilized on need and utilized for political purposes as well.

Both under the Pahlavis and today under the Islamic Republic, the bazaar and its credit systems are a major part of the Iranian economy. There was an attempt by the Pahlavi Government to provide alternative credit and distribution systems through state banks and cooperatives, but modern formal banks required too much collateral and were unable to provide credit as flexibly as the bazaar. The fact that banks in Pahlavi Iran had bad loan rates of one-tenth of one percent (versus 3 to 4 percent in the United States) indicates this lack of flexibility. So while the banking system was central to the state and large industrial sector, for commercial loans, the bazaar remained central to the economy, and therefore also central to much of the political maneuvering around economic issues. The bazaar was also central to the traditional agricultural and craft systems, both as outlet and for credit. Cloth and carpet weaving was often organized through the bazaar on a putting out system using village craft labor (on the Kirman example, see Dillon, 1976; English, 1966).

The moral discourse of the Islamic bazaar is built around a series of notions about fair price and negotiated justice. The main Shi’i commercial code for the bazaar is still the century-old Makasib (On Trade), the manual of Shaykh Murtaza Ansari of rules for exchange in the bazaar, and the sections on commerce in the various Risalat tawdih al-masa’il (Explanatory Text on Problems [of Religion]) issued by each of the marja` altaqlid (highest rank of the `ulama’). There have been a few attempts at updating mainly through ideological arguments about social justice and progressive politics, rather than through case examples as in the traditional manuals (e.g., Sadr, 1961; Taleqani, 1962; Shirazi, 1973; for the Arab world and a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, translated into Persian, see Qutb, 1981; for the Urdu world, see Mawdudi, n.d.; also more generally Mannan, 1986), or through the attempts by the Islamic Republic of Iran to rewrite the legal code of Iran. The main concern in the moral discussions about bazaar economics is with ensuring the conditions of knowledge and volition to the parties in an exchange of buying or selling. For instance, children may not buy and sell, but may only be agents of competent adults; goods may be returned if the buyer finds he bought them above the fair price or if the seller is uncertain of the price and finds he sold for too little. There are rules about what must be said for a transaction to be counted as a bay` (final sale) and arguments about the status of other transactions which are not so formalized (mu’atat). Of these rules, those on riba (interest and usury) are most central and problematic (particularly given the credit structure of the bazaar mentioned above, with its highly differentiated interest rates, which often seem very high by standards of more integrated economies. In medieval and early modern Europe, both Christians and Jews eventually came to terms with the biblical injunction against usury by differentiating between unjust return on money (usury) and just return (interest), thereby bringing the religious law into harmony with commercial practice and commonsense economic morality (see Nelson, 1969). In Islam this distinction is also argued, but it has not yet gained universal acceptance. Indeed, the majority opinion among conservative `ulama’ remains that all interest is usury. The result is the use of hiyal-i shar`i or kulah-i shar`i (lawful deceits), qarz-i hasanah (loans of goodness) or mihrabani (kindness), and mukhatirah (contracts)-ways of calculating interest as if it were something else. There have also been various experiments in the past two decades, and especially now under the Islamic Republic, with so-called Islamic banks which do not charge interest but treat all deposits as pooling of shared risk in business gain and loss. From the legal history of the word riba, and its use in the early traditions, it seems clear that the prohibition of riba was intended to counter excessive interest rates, and especially the debt enslavement that resulted from the practice of doubling the principle if a debtor asked for an extension of time to repay. It was also intended to make explicit equalities and inequalities of exchange and to reduce the uncertainties of speculation, such as in buying pregnant animals or crops that were not yet ripe.

Apart from the rules of fair price and the prohibition on biting usury, there are also principles of the public good and those of substituting something better (tabdil) used to modify endowment contracts. Bazaar exchanges provide a recognized arena of tension between individual rights and the good of the community, which is but vaguely regulated by personal morality and litigation. This vagueness is recognized in al-Ghazali’s metaphor that the bazaar is an arena of jihad, an internal holy war to maintain one’s morality when there is temptation to take unfair advantage. Other commentators speak of the role of the merchant as an occupation taken up as a service to the community but not for its own sake (fard alkifayah); it is something dangerous to one’s own morality, but the risk is shouldered, because it is a task the community must have performed. Another formulation is that the bazaar should be regulated under hisbah (the religious obligation to avoid evil), and at times there were officials, muhtasib, who helped maintain order, set prices, and collect taxes. This is a role that was already institutionalized in Greco-Roman markets, and it is an office still so named in Saudi Arabia, in the Berber suqs of Morocco (where prices are adjudicated by the muhtasib after consulting on production prices with the wholesalers), and a few other places. Finally, there is a notion that although Islam protects private property, such property is ultimately only usufruct and stewardship ownership on behalf of God and the community, which thus provides the community the right to intervene and establish rules of just use, exchange, and taxation.

In Iran, the Islamic Revolution nationalized banks, insurance, large industries, undeveloped land, and some trade. This was all done in the name of the public good, of the defense of the revolution or Muslim community, of rooting out unjust corrupt practices (banking interest, excessive profiteering by large companies controlling large shares of a market), and of ensuring equitable circulation of God’s wealth. Trouble came with land reform, where the redistribution of wealth was pursued not by expropriating to the state or community but by taking from one individual and giving to another. Although various efforts have been made to extend the terms of traditional Islamic discussions about the market to a modern national economy, the bazaar itself remains in place as a semiautonomous realm, with powerful economic and political interests that even the Islamic Republic must respect and negotiate with.

Finally, in addition to the moral codes embedded in Islamic law and speculations on social justice, there are the social institutions located in the bazaar which extend their own cultural forms of moral discourse. Of these the hayats, zurkhanahs, and hammams (as places where people gather, gossip, and discuss communal affairs) have been mentioned. It is of cultural and historical interest that the zurkhanah draws on both pre-Islamic and Islamic traditions and that it cultivates a particular style of the youthful heroic sense of responsibility. The exercises are done to the chant of the national epic, the Shahndmah, or also to songs about `All, the first Shi’i imam. The name for the athletic champions of the zurkhanah is the same word used for the heroic warriors of the Shahndmah: pahlavan (on zurkhanah in English, see further Fischer, 1973, pp. 252-258). There is a range of other moral statuses for young and older men who assume responsibility in the community which begin with this notion of pahlavan (see further Bateson et al., 1977). For young men there is the chivalrous notion of javan mard. It is paired with the negative, tough, hooligan: the gardankuluft, jahil, awbash, or luti. Middle-aged men who maintain their physical prowess and enforce community peace are called dash; while older men who can only exert moral influence are called and attempt to live by a code of being darvish (simple, honest, direct, unconcerned with the games of social pretension). Unlike the hierarchies of the religious youth who grow beards of varying styles (three day growth for believers, full beards for leaders), these moral types grow mustaches. The ideology draws on Sufi mystical teachings, drawing on internal spiritual powers increasingly as one moves toward the role of darvish. The ideologies encoded in these character types have been generalized and disseminated, among other ways, through the Iranian cinema (Fischer, 1984). The last great lutis of the Tehran bazaar were Tayyib, who collected a tax on goods moving in and out of a fruit bazaar near Ayatollah `Abd Allah Bihbahanis house; and his rival and successor, Sha`ban Bimukh (“The Brainless”) Qummi, who led royalist toughs in the 1950s and 1960s, being rewarded by the shah with a grand showplace zurkhanah at City Park. The theme of men protecting neighborhood morality was a frequent one in “B” or workingclass films (so-called abgushti films, named after the workingman’s soup-stew, abgusht): tension is heightened in the plots by the need to achieve revenge for injury before the police and civil legal system can intervene. Factory managers and even occasionally bureaucrats and academics refer to a luti or dash style as the only effective authority pattern (i.e., tough, nononsense, paternalistic, but moral and fair and doing right both behind the scenes and publicly).

Descriptive accounts of bazaars are potentially inexhaustible: their local forms, social, economic, political, and cultural inflections vary from the suqs of the “West” or Maghrib (North Africa) to the Hindu-complemented bazaars of India and beyond in all directions (e.g., Geertz, 1979, 1965, 1963; Fox, 1969; Goitein, 1973, 1969; Ostor, 1984; Rudolph, 1987). If the Persian bazaar is given focal attention here, it is because its structure illustrates that of a variety of bazaars. But even for Persian bazaars one could go on in ever more detail, about the secret languages of various guilds (Fischer, 1973 chap. 6), about the specializations of different crafts in different places (Centlivres, 1972; CentlivresDemont, 1971), about the differences in relative numbers of wholesalers to retailers in different bazaars (and the implications for social control), about the relations between the bazaar and the public and large industrial sectors, and so forth.

Analytic theories of bazaars (the evolution of trade forms, location theories of economic spatial arrangements, sociological forms of exchange and their ritualization, economic theories of capital fragmentation) also have large literatures. Most of these literatures, however, see the bazaar as but one phase in the transition and/or complexity of trade forms. There is also a naive literature on the “Islamic City,” which usually restricts itself to observing that the public spaces of the Islamic city are constructed around the triad of mosque, bazaar, and castle, and that the streets are labyrinthian; but little real knowledge of the workings of the bazaar is demonstrated. Occasionally Max Weber’s sociological observations are cited about the differences between cities founded in Western Europe with autonomous charters (and thus as important players in the evolution of political forms of the state) and patrimonially embedded Asian cities lacking such autonomy; these are now supplemented by a small but growing literature by social historians on the formation of local elites in urban centers and their relations to landownership, bazaars, control of regional trade and taxation, and imperial structures. There also are now a large number of descriptive accounts by geographers of many cities with bazaars, including maps and sometimes statistical information on numbers of shops and kinds of shops. Novels as well occasionally provide rich insight into both the social worlds and the economic structures of the bazaar Hedayat, 1979; Narayan, 1953).

[See also Guilds; Interest; Khums; Zurkhanah.]


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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/bazaar/

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