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Muftī

By:
Azim A. Nanji
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Muftī

A Muslim jurist capable of giving, when requested, a nonbinding opinion known as a fatwā, on a point of Islamic law is termed a muftī. During the formative period of Islam, learned Muslims whose counsel was sought on legal and ethical issues that arose in the community attempted to provide opinions and answers in the light of their understanding of the Qurʿān and in relation to the emerging body of ḥadīth (prophetic traditions). This activity subsequently crystallized to constitute the major Muslim legal schools. In its formal aspect, the position of muftī arose and became institutionalized as a response to the need for legal opinion and advice from scholars knowledgeable in early Islamic history among the various schools of law. In time, however, the muftī came to occupy a mediating position between the qāḍī, the judge who administered the law, and the faqīh or expert in Islamic law—that is, between actual courtroom situations where justice was administered and places of learning where the theoretical study of legal texts took place. The muftī's opinions built on precedent and were incorporated in legal reference manuals such as the well-known Fatāwā ʿĀlamgīrīyah. The muftī also played an important role in the Islamization of newly converted regions through education and counsel about legal norms.

Traditionally, a muftī was to be a person of integrity who possessed a thorough knowledge of established texts, traditions, and legal precedents. Although most were private scholars, some were appointed to official positions, notably in Mamluk Egypt and in the Ottoman Empire. In the Twelver Shīʿī tradition an analogous role came to be played by the mujtāhid, who maintained continuity within the tradition after the ghaybah (occultation, i.e., “lost to view”) of the twelfth imam in the ninth century. Under Ṣafavid rule the mujtāhid held the office of shaykh al-Islām. The role of such jurist⁄theologians eventually led to the development of the concept of wilāyat al-faqīh, the “governance of the jurist.”

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as legal codes of European origin were introduced to and adopted in the Muslim world, the muftī's role became limited primarily but not exclusively to the sphere of personal law. But since a muftī often acted as a religious teacher in the local community, people continued to seek his opinions on a wide range of matters dealing with practice of the faith as well as on everyday life. This role has persisted in the many new nation-states that emerged after colonial rule. As many of these Muslim countries seek to integrate and institutionalize aspects of Islamic law in national life, new patterns are emerging for the muftī's role in society. Some have been appointed as muftīs of the state; others provide consensus as part of advisory councils of religious scholars or constitutional assemblies of scholars. It is the private role of the muftī, however, that continues to be most influential, offering possibilities for further evolution in their creative task as counselors and mediators for tradition in times of change.

See also FAQīH; FATWā; Qāḍī; SHAYKH AL-ISLāM; and WILāYAT AL-FAQīH.

Bibliography

  • Calder, Norman. “Al-Nawawi's Typology of Muftis and its Significance for a General Theory of Islamic law,”Islamic Law and Society, 4 (1996): 137–164.
  • Coulson, Noel J.A History of Islamic Law. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964. Survey of Sunnī Muslim legal history, theory, and practice, up to the modern period.
  • Masud, Mohammad Khalid, Brinkley Messick, and David S. Powers, eds.Islamic Legal Interpretation: Muftis and Their Fatwas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Messick, Brinkley. The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
  • Messick, Brinkley. “The Mufti, the Text, and the World: Legal Interpretation in Yemen.”Man, New Series, 21, 1 (March 1986): 102–119. Analytic illustration of the methodology, conceptual framework, and social context of decision making by a Yemen muftī.
  • Sachedina, A. A.The Just Ruler in Shiite Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Comprehensive treatment of the history of Shīʿī jurisprudence and its doctrine of the just ruler.
  • Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964. Standard work of Western scholarship on Muslim jurisprudence and law.
  • Shāfiʿī, Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-. Islamic Jurisprudence: Al-Shāfiʿī's Risāla. Translated by Majid Khadduri. Baltimore: 1961. This translation makes available a pioneering work on Sunnī jurisprudence.
  • Toll, Christopher, and J. Skovgaard-Petersen, eds.Law and the Islamic World: Past and Present. Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 1995.
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