A firman or ferman, at the constitutional level, was a royal mandate or decree issued by a sovereign in the Islamic world. During various periods they were collected and applied as traditional bodies of law. The word firman is a Persian word meaning "decree" or "order".
In the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan derived his authority from his role as upholder of the Shar'ia. The Shar'ia did not cover all aspects of Ottoman social and political life. Therefore, in order to regulate relations and status, duties, and the dress of aristocracy and subjects, the Sultan created firmans. When issued by the Sultan in the Ottoman Empire, firmans' importance often showed by the document's layout; the more blank space at the top of it, the more important the firman was. Written in beautiful calligraphy, it would also carry the turhga, that is, the signature of the Sultan.
On a more practical level, a firman was, and may still be, any written permission granted by the appropriate Islamic official at any level of government. Westerners are perhaps most familiar with the permission to travel in a country, which typically could be purchased beforehand, or the permission to conduct scholarly investigation in the country, such as archaeological excavation. Firmans may or may not be combined with various sorts of passports.
During the Ottoman period, numerous firmans were issued by the Sultan or the Pasha (Governor) of Cyprus on various subjects: selling or buying property, recognising privileges for Consuls, dress codes, housing etc. Such firmans still exist, especially in the Church of Cyprus archives, museums and private collections.
The ‘Did You Know’ series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus) and Active Citizens Fund.