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Religious Authority in Islam (1/3)

Panel Chair: Patrick Franke | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

Continuing earlier efforts to explore the phenomenon of religious authority in Islam, the panel brings together a number of papers elucidating this phenomenon from two different perspectives. Whereas some of them are based on social research and try to understand the phenomenon through direct observation in a given milieu, others based on textual evidence aim to trace historical developments and societal debates revolving about religious authority in specific contexts. All of them have the common goal to refine and revise the terminology for the description of social processes related to religious authority within the world of Islamic norms and symbols. For activitating such a process of refinement and revision of terminology, it is necessary to bring the theoretical languages of the social studies and the categorizations of the social milieus studied into relation with each other. It is this purpose which we are pursuing in our panel.

Doris Decker

Female Authority in Early Islam, illustrated by Muhammad’s wife Umm Salama

The question of the legitimacy of female authority in Islam arouses heated discussions. Even the inter-pretations of female figures in the earliest traditions about the Prophet Muhammad are highly disputed. Nevertheless, the sources represent women in many different ways, including as authorities or policy-makers. This paper sheds light on often overlooked traditions about Muhammad’s wife, Umm Salama, in order to demonstrate—with reference to the written record—that these women were considered as authorities who played an intervening role as political advisors and mediators and were widely involved in socio-political affairs during the early Islamic period. Consequently, I argue that the narrators of the early Islamic traditions took female authority as well as female participation and intervention in socio-political decisions for granted, which will be supported by an analysis of texts by Islamic scholars such as Ibn Hisham, al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d, al-Bukhari, and at-Tabari.

Patrick Franke

The beginnings of the mufti institution

Whoever wants to study the phenomenon of religious authority in the sphere of Islam, cannot get around the institution of the muftī. Until today, the muftī is generally considered the authority as such responsible for giving opinions on doubtful matters of religion, ethics or law. Although it is well known that the muftī institution goes back to the earliest days of Islam, its beginnings have never been thoroughly studied. Among the few studies paying more attention to this issue is H. Motzki’s monography on the beginnings of Islamic jurisprudence (1991), which, however, is very much focused on the development in Mecca. The planned paper aims to widen the horizons by adducing textual evidence on muftīs active at other places in Syria, Iraq and Hijaz in the first century of Islam. The guiding questions when analyzing these sources will be: what was the social position of these muftis, in which way did they interact with the persons asking for their opinions, and what was the nature of their relations with state authorities? It will be argued that some types of conflict and tension which are characteristic of this institution today have accompanied it from its earliest phase.

Tilman Hannemann

A fourteenth-century Fatwa on Learning: Exclusion and Authority in Sufi Discourse

There is little known historically about Ahmad b. Idris (d. around 1359/760), mufti of Bejaia, “singulary in his region” among the legal scholars, and founder of a still existing lodge in the nearby Kabyle mountains. Four of his fatwas survived in the pages of the well-known collection of North-african jurisprudence Al-mi‘yar al-mu‘rib. This contribution aims to analyze one of these fatwas and to determine relevant historical factors and social debates. Employing a style rather uncommon to legal reasoning, Ahmad b. Idris turns the formal framework of fatwa-giving into a Sufi lesson as he puts forward a parable transmitted from the Baghdadian Sahl al-Tustari (c. 818/203–896/283) against a challenge to the authority of the men of learning (‘ulama’). The brief interaction between mufti and mustafti provides insights into the contested realm of formal religious education as well as it highlights the ambiguous function of the Sufi discourse that negotiates between renowned religious authorities and marginalized competitors.


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