Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco

Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco

Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco

Old Texts, New Practices: Islamic Reform in Modern Morocco

Synopsis

In 1910, al-Mahdi al-Wazzani, a prominent Moroccan Islamic scholar completed his massive compilation of Maliki fatwas. An eleven-volume set, it is the most extensive collection of fatwas written and published in the Arab Middle East during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Al-Wazzani's legal opinions addressed practical concerns and questions: What are the ethical and legal duties of Muslims residing under European rule? Is emigration from non-Muslim territory an absolute duty? Is it ethical for Muslim merchants to travel to Europe? Is it legal to consume European-manufactured goods? It was his expectation that these fatwas would help the Muslim community navigate the modern world.

In considering al-Wazzani's work, this book explores the creative process of transforming Islamic law to guarantee the survival of a Muslim community in a changing world. It is the first study to treat Islamic revival and reform from discourses informed by the sociolegal concerns that shaped the daily lives of ordinary people. Etty Terem challenges conventional scholarship that presents Islamic tradition as inimical to modernity and, in so doing, provides a new framework for conceptualizing modern Islamic reform. Her innovative and insightful reorientation constructs the origins of modern Islam as firmly rooted in the messy complexity of everyday life.

Excerpt

In 1910, at the height of a period of major crisis and change in Morocco, as fears about a full-scale French military occupation threatened the country with social disorder and anarchy, al-Mahdī al-Wazzānī (1849–1923), a prominent Moroccan Islamic scholar, published a massive eleven-volume compilation of Mālikī fatwās and named it al-Mi’yār al-jadīd (the New Standard Measure; henceforth, the New Mi’yār). In all likelihood, al-Wazzānī began his project around 1902. Enormous effort was involved in the compilation of the book. During a period of approximately eight years, al-Wazzānī toiled on countless manuscripts of Mālikī law and jurisprudence. He came across thousands of fatwās that had been issued in Morocco over the course of centuries of Mālikī legal activity, selecting individual fatwās to be included in his monumental work.

As a work of compilation, the New Mi’yār constitutes an assemblage of legal opinions issued by al-Wazzānī himself and by other prominent Mālikī muftīs, both contemporaries and predecessors. The scope of the work attests to a deliberate policy on the part of al-Wazzānī to produce a digest or encyclopedia of Mālikī law. It is immediately apparent that he carefully selected fatwās that tackle an ample spectrum of topics, and he gathered, copied, and arranged the material according to thematic criteria. Many of these legal opinions treat questions concerned with concrete social exigencies and everyday life of ordinary people that emerged within the context of the world in which al-Wazzānī lived: What are the ethical and legal duties of Muslims residing under European rule? Is emigration from non-Muslim territory an absolute . . .

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