(plural, asnaf), an association of artisans, organized on the basis of trade or class, in the feudal states of the Muslim East. The asnaf were functionally akin to Western European guilds, but they had only limited internal autonomy in administrative and financial matters.
The first mention of the asnaf in historical sources dates from the ninth century. By the 14th century they had spread throughout the Middle East, but they were most highly developed in the Ottoman Empire. The most important figure in the sinf hierarchy was the master; below him were assistants, and below them, apprentices. With the development of commodity-money relations, the asnaf devoted less time to organizing production; the main functions of the highest-ranking members became the collection of taxes from the artisans and the maintenance of order among the members of the guild.
In the 19th century, Western European economic expansion and the development of capitalist relations in the East led to a decline of the asnaf. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the asnaf disbanded or were abolished.