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Reviews of Oppressed in the Land? Fatwās on Muslims Living under Non-Muslim Rule from the Middle Ages to the Present

“In recent years, interest in relations between Muslims and the (Christian) West has seen a marked growth, driven by increasingly high-profile interactions between the two and the large number of Muslims currently living in non-Muslim lands, particularly those of the West. The volume under consideration provides a useful further contribution to teaching material on the latter, presenting a number of Islamic religious judgements (fatwās) from a range of times and places which relate to the permissibility for Muslims of living under non-Muslim rule.

The book commences with an introduction to the topic, which recounts various historical situations in which Muslims have been ruled by non-Muslims, the reasons that make this a controversial subject in Islam, and the corpus of material Muslims can draw on to answer questions on the permissibility of their remaining under non-Muslim rule.

There then follows a useful discussion of what fatwās are and what the role of the mufti, who pronounces them, is, and the introduction finishes with a general overview of the qur’anic passages related to the subject and how these have been interpreted through the ages. Following this, the book then presents English translations of questions on the subject recorded as having been received by muftis at various times, followed by the fatwā each question received. The selected fatwās are divided into thematic chapters, the first of which examines fatwās from the period of the end of Muslim Spain, and includes the so-called “Marbella fatwā” of al-Wansharīsī, in which the Moroccan jurist declares that a man who has failed to emigrate from the Christian town of Marbella should be sent to hell for his remaining there. The other fatwā included in this chapter is that of al-Ramlī on the Muslims of Aragon, in which this Egyptian Shāfiʿī suggests that, since the Muslims in Aragon were able to freely practise their religion, there was no obligation for them to emigrate.

The second chapter explores fatwās from across the ages regarding rulers who “falsely” claim to be Muslims, and includes Ibn Taymiyya’s famous “Mardin fatwā.” In this judgement, this extremely influential scholar declared, seemingly for political reasons, that the town of Mardin, recently conquered by the newly Islamized Mongols, was in neither the “Abode of Peace” nor the “Abode of War,” creating a new category of place. Chapter 2 also contains a fatwā by Ibn Fūdī from 1806, in which it is declared that, since the rulers of Hausaland were tolerating syncretic values and failing to enforce Islamic orthodoxy, their lands were part of the “Abode of War” and it was therefore incumbent on Muslims there to emigrate.

The third chapter examines Muslim ideas surrounding emigration from British India, including an anonymous treatise from c. 1870 suggesting that migration from British-held territory was obligatory, declarations by scholars in late-nineteenth-century Mecca that India was still part of the “Abode of Peace” and so emigration was unnecessary, and the fatwā of the Indian scholar Karamat ʿAlī stating that rebellion against British rule was prohibited. Numerous other judgements on the subject are also recounted, including those by Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Abul Kalam Azad. The fourth chapter examines French North Africa in the colonial age, and it provides several examples of fatwās that suggest that Muslims should emigrate from this area, and contrasts these with others that acknowledge the permissibility of remaining there.

The two concluding chapters are on “Minority Jurisprudence” in the modern period. The first of these two is focussed on the opinions of Rashīd Rid. ā, one of the originators of this area of thought, and highlights two of his judgements, one on Muslims from North Africa who took French citizenship, and another declaring that there was no necessity for Muslims in Bosnia to leave their land even though it was, at the time, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The final chapter examines the place of the many millions of Muslims who currently live in the non-Muslim world. The fatwās included in this chapter are the judgement by al-ʿAlwānī in 2000, which states that Muslims should participate in the democratic process of the United States, and the contrary 2001 declaration by al-Būt.ī that Muslims should not permanently reside outside Muslim-ruled countries. This chapter is followed by an appendix containing two fatwās by al-Albānī declaring that Palestinians should leave Israel for a Muslim country.

A number of criticisms could be levelled at this book, none of which is particularly damning, although the absence of an index, as is the case here, is always rather irritating. It is, however, to be wondered why there is so little in the volume from the medieval period. Only Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) and al-Wansharīsī (d. 914/1508) are included and there are no earlier texts than these, even though important fatwās are available, such as that of al-Māzārī on the situation in Norman Sicily in the sixth/twelfth century. Another issue is that there is no real explanation of why the fatwās that are included have been selected. The assumption must be that they were deemed representative of a range of views, but nowhere is that spelled out. It may also have been useful to record more than one fatwā by the same person; al-Wansharīsī, for example, wrote another fatwā on the subject, which is contained in his Asnā al-matājir, and which can be said to be more significant than the “Marbella fatwā” included in this volume. Finally, there is the question of why the book has concentrated only on fatwās. Although the reason for this may be guessed at, the result is that fatwās may be wrongly taken to represent the whole of Muslim opinion on the subject, whereas other assessments of Muslims under non-Muslim rule can be found in a range of other written material.

However, these are minor quibbles, given that the book will open up a range of source material to students in a readily accessible form. The more source material available for examination the better, and this volume gives a good overview of the approaches Muslims have taken over the centuries to the issue of living under non-Muslim rule, and the chronological and geographical delineations of the texts allows for an appreciation of how these have altered across time, place, and circumstance. This book should be used as a primary-text sourcebook for undergraduate courses on Christian–Muslim relations wherever the subject is taught.”--Islam-Muslim-Christian Relations


“This is an excellent and accessible anthology of translated fatwas spanning the 14th to the 21st century and encompassing a vast geographical expanse. The anthology, as the author explains, seeks to demonstrate the evolution, pragmatism and malleability of the Islamic juristic tradition as it sought to answer difficult questions that have concerned Muslims since the early seventh century, including: “Do ‘good Muslims’ have to live in a country governed by Muslims?” “How does minority status influence the practice of Islamic forms of worship, charity, familial relationships, and community organization?” “What relationship should exist between Muslim communities who lack political self-determination and the authorities in the Islamic heartlands?” “What are Muslims obliged to do if they find themselves under non-Muslim rule?” “How does living under non-Muslim rule affect religious practice or, conversely, how would their religious identity affect political loyalty?” “Can there be an authentic Islam where the sharī‘a cannot be enforced?” In attempting to investigate how Muslim scholars have sought to answer these questions over the past seven centuries, the author presents—in translation—the perspective of a diverse group of Sunni jurists from the Ḥanbalī, Shāfi‘ī, Mālikī and Ḥanafī legal schools who lived in a variety of contexts—ranging from 14th-century Syria to 19th-century West Africa and British India to the 21st-century United States—and placing an array of historical thinkers, including Ibn Taymīyya (d. 728/1328), al-Wansharīsī (d. 914/1508), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Ramlī (d. 957/1550), Usmān dan Fodio (d. 1232/1817), Shāh ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (d. 1239/1823), Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (d. 1316/1898), Rashīd Riḍā (d. 1354/1935)—in conversation with one another.

Verskin makes a strong case, both directly and indirectly, for the importance of fatwas as an important body of historical sources. Verkin’s selection of texts and his own commentary upon them makes it clear that fatwas are an indispensable source not only for Islamic legal and intellectual history, but also serve as documents that can illuminate certain aspects of the social and political history of the Islamic world, especially during times of great upheaval and transformation. The bulk of the fatwas translated are concerned with the period after 1800, but the medieval selections (taken from the works of al-Wansharīsī, al-Ramlī, and Ibn Taymīyya) are well-chosen and preceded by a useful discussion of the discourse about Muslim minorities in the pre-colonial period. Scholars of British India and French Africa and those interested in Muslim history during the colonial period will find this anthology of particular interest due to Verskin’s close engagement with the set of questions raised in each context, the development of the juristic discourse in these regions during the nineteenth early twentieth century, and his inclusion of a significant number of fatwas from these contexts (five pertaining to French Africa and six dealing with British India). The section on minority jurisprudence also provides significant insight into the evolution of the debate throughout the twentieth century, beginning with Rashīd Riḍā’s 1909 fatwa on the Muslims residing in Austro-Hungarian Bosnia to Tahā Jābir al-‘Alwānī’s exhortation in 2000 for American Muslims to participate in the US political process, and ending with Sa‘īd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī’s condemnation of “minority jurisprudence” (fiqh al-aqalliyyāt) in the early 21st century.

Each translation is preceded by a useful historical contextualization and discussion of the contents of the fatwa in question, as well as an attempt to discuss the legal and theological perspective of each given scholar in relation with the broader juristic discourse on Muslim minorities and the question of hijra. The vast geographic, cultural, and political landscape that is covered within the book allows the reader to appreciate the importance of context in the construction of a specific legal-theological opinion, as well as to recognize that, even across centuries and geo-political frontiers, the question of the legitimacy of residing under non-Muslim rule and anxieties pertaining to exercising one’s religious obligations in such a context have concerned Muslims from the seventh century to the present.

Although not exhaustive by any means, this is a major contribution to the field of Islamic legal, social, intellectual and political history which will be immensely useful to both students and scholars working in an array of disciplines. In addition to being affordable, the translations are accessible, well-annotated and demonstrate the author’s strong command of the Arabic language and the legal terminology”—Mohamed Ballan in “Good Reads”