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Guardians of Islam: Religious Authority and Muslim Communities of Late Medieval Spain.

Guardians of Islam: Religious Authority and Muslim Communities of Late Medieval Spain. By KATHRYN A. MILLER. New York: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2008. Pp. xv + 276. :05, [pounds sterling]38.

Guardians of Islam examines the activities of Muslim faqihs--local religious officials who served as judges, prayer-leaders, preachers, notaries, and legal advisors--in the Mudejar communities along the Ebro river valley in fifteenth-century Aragon. The work succeeds admirably in bringing to life the history of Mudejar communities, that is, communities of Muslims living in Iberia as subject peoples after the reconquest by Christian powers. The result is a carefully constructed understanding of the backgrounds, ideas, concerns, and operations of Muslim notaries, prayer-leaders, and related officials in the Mudejar communities of Aragon. Miller has made an effort to do this using sources that allow a glimpse at the Mudejars' own views and aspirations, and she succeeds in providing a picture of the relationships, strictures, and aspirations that defined their world. The work brings to bear evidence from a variety of sources, usually treated either in isolation or in a discussion that glosses over wide temporal and geographical gaps, in order to portray a particular social group in a particular region during a particular period. Its main merit from the perspective of the historiography of late medieval Iberia is that it draws primarily on documents in Arabic and Aljamiado (Spanish dialect written in Arabic script), including letters, sermons, contracts, legal responsa, and manuscript colopha, a daunting task not only because of the technical knowledge reading such documents demands but also because of their scattered nature and the challenges of figuring out their context.

The work is divided into an introduction, seven chapters, and an epilogue. The introduction (pp. 1-19) presents the communities that are the focus of the work, aptly describing them as Muslim exclaves. Chapter one (pp. 20-43) describes the problematic nature of these Muslim exclaves from the Islamic legal point of view: it was believed that one could not live as a dutiful Muslim while under the direct political domination of Christian powers. Chapter two (pp. 44-58) describes the various types of Muslim communities that existed in Mudejar Spain, roughly between the reconquest of Toledo in 1085 and the forced conversion of Valencian Muslims in 1525-6. Chapter three (pp. 59-80) describes the transmission of Islamic religious knowledge and the networks through which it traveled, both within Mudejar territory and between that territory and outside centers of learning. Chapter four (pp. 81-106) discusses the commitment of local Muslim jurists to record transactions and documents of all kinds, suggesting that this was due, in part at least, to the obsession of the Christian government with documentation. Chapter five (pp. 106-27) discusses their complex role as legal authorities. They performed a crucial role as advisors of local Muslims and advocated for them with Christian authorities, but at the same time bore the criticism of jurists in the major centers of Islamic legal learning in Granada, Morocco, and Algeria for their lack of proper education and their incorrect applications of Islamic law. Chapter six (pp. 128-50) describes the faqihs' role as preachers and spiritual guides in the attempt to resist assimilation. Chapter seven (pp. 151-75) discusses the role the faqihs played as intermediaries between Muslim states and Muslims under Muslim rule with the Christian authorities in negotiating the redemption of captives. The epilogue (pp. 176-81) discusses the fate of the Aragonesefaqihs in the sixteenth century, after Charles V's edict of conversion in November 1525.

These rubrics of education, record-keeping, legal advice, preaching, and redeeming captives allow Miller to present the salient activities of these faqihs. Her approach captures aspects of their world that are not revealed in Romance sources and counters the Eurocentric view of the faqihs in the historiography. There were several faqihs in each community, even three to five faqihs in relatively small towns (p. 53). Miller's sources render palpable the efforts the faqihs made to maintain their knowledge of Islamic religious practice, theology, and law. It becomes evident not only that particular families produced numbers of faqihs over generations, carrying on strong traditions of learning, something one might expect, but also that the transmission of learning was intimately related to networks of trade. The Christian authorities generally accepted the validity of the Muslims' documents and contracts, and so had need of intermediaries who could translate the documents or at least convey their contents in Romance. Miller describes with care their precarious position as legal authorities. On the one hand, they clearly served as advisors to the local community and were obviously authorities on Islam--no other authorities were directly available. More distinguished legal authorities could be consulted in Granada, Oran, Fez, Marrakesh, or elsewhere in North Africa, but that was time-consuming, expensive, and impractical. On the other hand, legal experts in Islamic lands (dar al-Islam) generally did not recognize the Mudejar faqihs as authorities, viewed their knowledge of Arabic as weak, and considered their legal education as limited and deficient. More importantly, these experts impugned the faqihs' moral standing. In the view of most Maliki jurists, a Muslim living under Christian rule was under the obligation to escape to Muslim territory unless he was unable to do so, in which case he had a dispensation for duress. Most of the faqihs were not in this category because they were not destitute, and some of them in fact had traveled back and forth between Aragon and Granada or North Africa. They were therefore in violation of this injunction, and could not properly serve as witnesses--on the grounds that they did not have 'addict "probity," i.e., did not have a clean moral record--let alone serve as judges or legal consultants. This impediment, while it damaged their reputation outside the region, obviously did not put an end to their activities. Indeed, while it is often assumed that the Mudejar communities were weak, struggling, and cut off from support because of their geographical location outside dar it is shown here that they provided crucial services to their coreligionists in Andalus and North Africa, particularly evident in the ransom and emancipation of Muslim captives. In some sense, they were more powerful because of their connections with and intimate knowledge .of local conditions.

The overarching Islamic questions that loom behind Guardians of Islam, and indeed most studies of the Mudejars and the Moriscos, are those of Muslims' assimilation to the dominant Christian culture and the legal status of Muslim subject communities. In chapter six, inspired by a comment of al-Ghazali (d. 505/11 l 1), Miller uses the term jihad to describe the normal activities of the faqihs, which entailed looking after the interests of their coreligionists, drafting or ratifying documents, and even resisting acculturation or assimilation in a broad sense. It must be recognized that al-Ghazari's unusual definition of jihad here is slim justification for this characterization. The contemporary texts Miller cites do not use that specific term (e.g.. pp. 114, 126). Where Miller links ijtihad and jihad very closely (pp. 128ff.), she may have understood the technical sense when the ordinary sense of "struggle, effort" was intended. The technical meanings are actually quite distant--"exhaustive investigation of the law" as opposed to "warfare against non-Muslim powers"--despite the fact that the words are cognates. Miller writes that al-Wahrani (d. 917/1511), the author of a fatwa allowing the Moriscos to dissimulate under duress, embraced a notion of jihad on the part of Spanish Muslims (p. 114). This is untenable; the equation of jihad with "inner resistance" or some such general notion was probably not his understanding. He certainly sees that being Muslim in Spain was difficult, likening those who hold fast to their faith to people holding burning embers in their hands, but he does not call this jihad; the key term in his fatwa is ikrah "coercion." His ideas about jihad appear at the end of the fatwa, when he prays for the Ottoman Turks to come free the Spanish Muslims.

A comparative Islamic perspective might throw additional light on many points made in Guardians of Islam. In other Islamic societies, a similar process of title inflation resulted in devaluation of the term faqih "jurist, expert on law" with the result that it came to designate a religious scholar of more limited accomplishments. In Egypt, fi'i (the dialectal pronunciation of faqM) means a Qur'an reader for hire. In Morocco, ftifih refers to a low-level religious consultant who reads prayers, writes amulets, recites the Qur'an over graves, and so on. The fatwas cited here make it clear that Muslims knew of situations parallel to that which obtained in the provinces of Spain that had been reconquered by the Christians, for they mention Sicily and Crete explicitly. One could add the territories in eastern Anatolia and northern Syria that had been reconquered by the Byzantines in the mid-tenth century. A request for a legal responsum addressed to al-Sharif al-Murtacla (d. 436/1044) by Shiites in the city of Mayydfariqin (Silvan in modern Turkey) gives some sense that their situation was not that different from that of the Mudejars (al-Sharif Jawabat al-Mavvagirigiyvat, in Rased al-Sharif al-Murtada, 4 vols., ed. al-Sayyid Abmad al-Husayni and al-Sayyid Mahdi Raji 'Qum: Dar al-Qur'an al-Karim, 1984], 1:271-306):
  We reside in a region adjacent to the Abode of Unbelief,
  and it is rare that we find someone in whose piety and
  honesty we have confidence so that we might take the
  salient points of our religion on his authority, and
  for this reason we are in the most dire need that our
  Master--may God protect his bounty!--grant us a legal
  responsum (fatwa) regarding questions that we have
  recorded here. The answers to most of these questions
  may be found in the books of our fellows [the Imami
  Shiites], but we prefer to see his noble script and
  to adopt it as a support and rely on it.

Muslims in such regions had to contend with challenges similar to those faced by the Mudejars, such as limited access to education in the religious sciences, Muslim scholars, and Muslim legal experts. These other communities faced the complex questions surrounding the mechanisms of legal consultation, the informal ranks among jurists, and the rights of jurists lower down the scale to transmit the opinions of higher authorities, to adjust and interpret those opinions according to local conditions, or to devise their own answers to legal questions that did not arise in Muslim territory.

Scholarship on the Mudejars and Moriscos has drawn on a limited number of legal responsa in order to describe the status of Muslims in Spain and to characterize their social life and relationships with Christian authorities. Scholars who have consulted these fatwas have sometimes missed crucial information and misinterpreted their relevance to the original context. Miller's work follows earlier scholarship on these fatwas in some cases; in others, she has discovered previously unstudied fatwas on the topic, such as that of the Granadan mufti al-Haffar (d. 811/1408). Miller suggests that a fatwa regarding Mudejars by Ibn Rabic (d. 719/1320) presents a typology of Muslim communities that reflects the actual status of Mudejar communities in Spain (pp. 46-48). This fatwa does not present such a typology, but rather treats the situations of individual Muslims with regard to their obligation to emigrate and their consequent legal status. These topics overlap but are not the same. Many studies, including Guardians of Islam, have referred to a fatwa issued by al-Wansharisi (d. 914/1508) in the late fifteenth century as an example of a general, unforgiving ban on Muslims' residence in Christian territory (pp. 22-23, 27, 39-40, 44). At one point Miller states that al-Wansharisi's fatwa refers to the situation after the fall of Granada in 1492 (p. 44), when the document is actually dated before the fall, on 19 Dhal-Qacda 896/22 September 1491. Scholars have failed to realize that the fatwa does not treat Andalusi Muslims who are unable to emigrate, and who would thus be subject to a dispensation on the grounds of duress, but only those whose means to emigrate has been established. Moreover, this fatwa does not address the situation of Mudejars in Spain, but that of specific Andalusis who had already emigrated to Morocco, were displeased with circumstances there, and wished to return. The Andalusi Muslims did not approach al-Wansharisi directly, but another North African jurist posed the question, seeking advice on how to punish them properly. Al-Wansharisi probably had uppermost in his mind not the situation of Muslims in Spain, but actually a crisis closer by, that of Muslims collaborating with the Portuguese in Morocco. On this fatwa and its contexts, see now the doctoral dissertation of Jocelyn Hendrickson, "The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi's Amu al-Matajir Reconsidered" (Emory University, 2009). Another fatwa discussed was addressed in the early sixteenth century by the North African jurist al-Wahrani to Moriscos who had been forced to convert to Christianity, presumably in the former Kingdom of Granada, and allows them to dissimulate in order to maintain their belief while avoiding punishment by Christian authorities. Following earlier scholarship. Miller gives the date of the fatwa as 1502. writes that it was sent from Oran, and reports the jurist's death date as 909-10/1504 (pp. 114, 181). The fatwa was actually issued in 910/1504; this is the ultimate source of the death date Miller provides here. The scholar in question originated from Oran but probably wrote the fatwa in Fez, where he taught as a professor of law and died in 917/1511. On this jurist, see Devin J. Stewart. "The Identity of the 'Mufti of Oran': Aba 1-(Abbas Abmad b. Abi Jum'ah al-Maghrawi al-Wahrani (d. 917/1511)," A I-Qanlara 27,2 (2006): 265-301.


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Author:Stewart, Devin J.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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