Iftā’ and Fatwa in the Muslim World and the West By Zulfiqar Ali Shah (London: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2014. 192 pages.)

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Saheed Ahmad Rufai



In his review of Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth’s Gods and Humans in Islamic
Thought: Abdul-Jabbār, Ibn Sīna and al-Ghazāli (Abingdon: Routledge,
2006), Sajjad Rizvi (2008) identifies three paths proposed by three influential
medieval thinkers as characterizing the interconnected nature of intellectual
inquiry in Islam: Abd al-Jabbar (d. 1025), regarded as representing the kalām tradition, Ibn Sina (d. 1037) of the philosophical orientation, and al-Ghazali
(d. 1111) of the Sufi tradition. If Rizvi had accurately added the juridical or
jurisprudential dimension to Elkaisy-Friemuth’s perspective, his review would
have panoramically captured the essence of Islam’s intellectual tradition. The
elegant book under review, Iftā and Fatwa in the Muslim World and the West,
edited by Zulfiqar Ali Shah, has taken care of that major omission in what
may be described as a virtually all-encompassing look at emerging concerns
in iftā’ (formulating a fatwa) and fatwa (issuing a fatwa).
The book features an introduction by the editor and eight chapters by
scholars in the various foci of the subject covered. The introduction situates
the book’s subject in a historical context and exposes its indebtedness to
the seminar convened during July 2011 by the International Institute of Islamic
Thought’s (IIIT) Summer Institute for Scholars, which addressed this
topic. The editor attributes the emergence of consensus on the chaotic nature
of the contemporary processes of both iftā’ and fatwa to the seminar.
He then identifies the intellectual skills required for analytical reasoning,
as well as the broad general knowledge of the fields relevant to the cultural
contexts of their verdicts, as the strength that characterized the excellent
performance of scholars in fatwa formulation and issuance from the rise
of the Abbasids in 750 to the fall of Andalusia in 1492. Conversely, contemporary
knowledge is fragmented into specializations and sub-specializations,
all of which can hardly be mastered by one scholar or group of
scholars. The editor, who engages critically with various issues and concerns
involved in the contemporary formulation and issuance of fatwa, also
provides a brief description of each chapter’s subject. However, the word
al-fiqh al-istidlālī (demonstrative fiqh) is wrongly rendered as fiqh alistighlālī
(p. 10) ...

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