This study seeks to examine some important aspects of the legal life of Muslims in the Middle East in the sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries, that is, to the last historical moment when the traditional Islamic legal system may be said to have been still undiluted by Western cultural penetration. I shall do this by analyzing the legal opinions (fatwas)1 of two Arab and one Turkish jurisconsults (muftīs), the seventeenth-century Palestinian Khayr al-Dīn al-Ramlī, Muḥammad Amīn Ibn ʿĀbidīn who lived in Damascus in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and Ebu Suud al-Imadi, chief jurisconsult (şeyhülislam) of the Ottoman Empire, who lived in sixteenth-century Istanbul.2 The inclusion of this latter mufti is made particularly necessary by the fact that at that period the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East and most probably affected the mode of functioning of Islamic law, an influence that could well have been exercised via this very mufti. To disregard him would have meant leaving aside the socio-political milieu of Islamic law in this period.
My purpose in this study is to offer a reconsideration of the general structure of Islamic law as a thought world: there are many excellent studies on Islamic law in the classical period but only a few references to what took place in the final stages of late classical Islam. When the muftis discussed here are mentioned, it is always____________________