Beyond Text

Fluid Fatwas and Embodied Muftis


  • Mashal Saif Clemson University



context, embodiment, fatwas, mufti


The study of Islamic juridical pronouncements (fatwas) has come to occupy a prominent position in the field of Islamic Studies. These works on fatwas, though deeply insightful, are characterized by a text-centric approach. The text of the fatwa is seen as standing in a virtually sanitized environment free from the complexities of form, process, context and language. Challenging this bias in scholarship on fatwas, I argue for a broadening of the traditional text-centered approach to fatwa analysis by highlighting the importance of examining the fatwa issuance process as well as the broader context of fatwas that is jointly constructed and negotiated during the fatwa issuance process by the jurisconsult (mufti) and the questioner (mustafti). I substantiate my arguments by drawing on theories of language, works on the interview and writings on context and embodiment. To elucidate the significance of my propositions and recommendations, I supplement my discussions with examples from the field, including my own ethnographic work. As this article asserts, the merits of this approach to fatwa analysis include a drastic widening of the scope in which a particular fatwa can be understood and interpreted.


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Author Biography

  • Mashal Saif, Clemson University

    Mashal Saif is Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religion, Clemson University. Her research interests include Islam in contemporary South Asia; the trans-temporal dynamics between medieval and modern Islamic discourses; contemporary Muslim political theology; the intersection of religious studies and postcolonial theory; and the anthropology of the state.


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How to Cite

Saif, M. (2016). Beyond Text: Fluid Fatwas and Embodied Muftis. Fieldwork in Religion, 10(1), 115-132.