Arabian Nights represent a valuable literary work which reveals the cultural traditions, norms and values of the Arab world as well as those people with whom Arabs developed trade contacts or international relations in the past. At the same time, it should be said that Arabian Nights raise a variety of themes which allow the audience to better understand the actual life of the Arab society in the past. In this respect, it is possible to mention the theme of justice, which apparently plays an important part in Arabian Nights and gives insight into the system of justice existing in the Arab world, its basic principles and mechanisms of the application of justice. In actuality, this theme may be traced in different stories comprising Arabian Nights, but it is particularly important to dwell upon such stories as “The Three Apples”¯ and “Ali-Baba and Forty Thieves”¯, where the justice is carried out in different ways that reveals specificities of justice in the Arab world in the past epoch.
In fact, speaking about justice in the context of Arabian nights, it is necessary to stress the multiple implications of the concept of justice. What is mean here is the fact that justice can be viewed not only as a purely criminal concept, but it is also justice asĀ broader concept which implies the just reward for good deeds, honest and honorable behavior, the virtuous lifestyle at large. In such a way, justice is rather a philosophical concept in Arabian Nights than a purely criminal concept. At the same time, the analysis of stories comprising Arabian Nights, it is possible to estimate that justice is quite a flexible concept for Arabs because, even though there are certain rules and norms, but they still are not applied literally, instead, there is a possibility of flexible implementation of existing laws and norms. What is meant here is the fact that the laws are rather fundamental concepts and principles which form the basis of the justice system in the Arab world, but these laws should be applied to a specific case taking into consideration circumstances accompanying crime or unjust action or inaction.
In this respect, the story “The Three Apples”¯ is particularly noteworthy. In fact, the entire story is focused on the murder of a woman, which is investigated in the course of the story. At this point, it is important to stress the fact that, according to existing laws, the murderer should be punished and executed for his crime. At the same time, as the story unfolds, the execution of the murderer is not only delayed but is canceled at all. Such a paradoxical and, at first glance, illogical outcome can be viewed as a proof ineffectiveness of the justice in Arabian Nights and the society described in the story. However, on a detailed analysis of the story, it becomes obvious that the outcome is quite logical, though the system of justice is apparently a bit strange for modern, western readers, since it entirely relies on the will of the Caliph, the ruler of the country.
In fact, the story of “The Three Apples”¯ is the story of a murder of a woman by her husband. At the same time, it was quite difficult to investigate the murder because the husband, who murdered the woman, attempted to disguise his crime and cut the body of his dead wife to pieces and closed it in the chest. Occasionally, the crime is revealed and the investigation is conducted. In such a context, the fact that the murder is eventually found is very important because it proves the effectiveness of the justice system which existed in the Arab world at the epoch. Obviously, it would be impossible to find the criminal without the investigation.
At the same time, the behavior of a murder is also quite remarkable and reveals basic principles of justice existing in the society in that epoch. In actuality, the murder confesses that he killed his wife because of her unfaithfulness or, to put it more precisely, because of his suspicions in her being unfaithful. On the other hand, the young man is not the only one who confesses in the crime, but it is also an old man, a father of the murdered woman, who confesses in the commitment of this crime. In this respect, it is obvious that the story reveals the attitude of people to justice. As soon as the crime is uncovered the murder confesses in the crime that, in all probability could be a norm or, at any rate, such a behavior was considered to be honorable and just.
However, the paradoxical behavior of the father of the murdered woman may seem to be strange, but it can be explained by his intention to hide the cause of the murder and to save his son-in-law from the punishment, which he believed to be inevitable and the punishment would be the execution of the murderer. Hence, it is obvious that the justice system of that epoch was grounded on traditional norms and rules, according to which the punishment should be proportional to the crime and guilt of the criminal. At the same time, it is obvious that the concept of justice was closely intertwined with the concept of honor, because the father’s attempt to save his father-in-law was motivated not only by his attitude to his son-in-law, but also by his intention to save his daughter from disgrace because she could be suspected of being an unfaithful wife that was apparently a kind of crime which was worth punishing.
In such a context, the decision of the Caliph to let the murderer live may be explained by the fact that the suspicions of the husband that his wife was unfaithful was sufficient for the Caliph to justify the murder. At the same time, as it turns out that it was a slave, who actually provoked the murder, he was punished because he was viewed as the primary cause of the crime.
In this respect, the story of “The Three Apples”¯ reveals several facts about justice at the epoch. Firstly, the justice was carried out by the Caliph, who had the supreme legal, executive and judicial power. Secondly, the justice system relied on the system of investigation of cases, which could reveal criminals and their guilt. Finally, the justice was flexible and the norms could be ignored or changed to punish those who were considered to be guilty of the provocation of the commitment of crime, even though they did not commit the crime.
At the same time, Arabian Nights do not only reveal how the actual system of justice worked but the stories also reveal that justice can be carried out regardless of the will of legal authorities, that implies the interference of supernatural or divine forces. For instance, the story “Ali-Baba and Forty Thieves”¯ reveals the fact that the punishment can come occasionally, without any investigations or accusations, etc.
Instead, criminals can be justly punished simply because they are criminals, while virtuous people are rewarded. Hence, Ali-Baba is rewarded for he discovers the cave full of treasures and this may be viewed as a reward for his virtuous life. In contrast, the forty thieves and their chief are punished for the crime, because their deeds were unlawful. In such a context, Morgiana, who stabs to death the chief of the thieves, is not punished, though murder is legally forbidden. Instead, she marries the son of Ali-Baba that may be viewed as a reward.
In such a way, Arabian Nights reveal the attitude of people to justice at that epoch. The stories reveal the fact that crime was normally severely punished in the Arab world. Moreover, criminals could be punished even without the legal trial that implied the existence of superior, divine justice. In addition, the justice was not blind in Arabian Nights but it is very selective and it is only those people who were really guilty of crimes were punished severely, while people whose actions could be justified by moral norms of that epoch were pleaded not guilty.