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Verskin, Alan. Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista: The Debate on the Status of Muslim Communities in Christendom (Catlos)

  • 23 Aug 2016 10:44 AM
    Message # 4206067
    Simon Doubleday (Administrator)

    Verskin, Alan. Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista: The Debate on the Status of Muslim Communities in Christendom. Studies in Islamic Law and Society, 39. Leiden, E.J. Brill: 2015. Pp. x+202. ISBN 978-9004283190. Hardcover $128.


    Reviewed by Brian A. Catlos

    Religious Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

    brian.catlos@colorado.edu


    Recently much work has been done on medieval fatawa (sing.: fatwa: legal responsa) on the status and legality of Muslims living under Christian rule in the Iberian Peninsula. Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista, Alan Verskin’s careful and thorough analysis of the position of Islamic jurists, will undoubtedly be the last word on this subject for some time. This slim volume – both dense and readable – thoroughly surveys the primary source material and engages with recent historiography and a range of methodologies and approaches.


    The book begins with a comprehensive introduction situating the medieval Islamic debate on the status of mudéjares in a historical and historiographical context and examining the possibilities and limitations of fatawa as sources. The first chapter, “The Concept of Hijra (Migration) in Medieval Iberia and the Maghrib,” looks at the concept of (obligatory) emigration in medieval legal interpretation. Verskin argues that notion that Muslim ought to be obliged to the territories of the legitimate imam originated in North Africa among the Fatimids and was adopted by the Almoravids and Almohads. The second chapter, “The Status of the Mudéjar Religious Leadership According to Maliki Law,” analyses the position of jurists of Maliki law as to whether it was possible for Islamic religious/juridical leadership to properly and legitimately exercised under the rule of an infidel regime – a central question in the consideration as to whether such communities should exist. Malikism was the dominant school of legal interpretation in al-Andalus and the Maghrib, and has a reputation for being particularly rigorous and uncompromising. Verskin brings nuance to this view, showing that prior to the fall of the Almohads, jurists were prepared to make concessions, but that after they took a much harder line vis-à-vis mudéjares.

     

    The third chapter, “Life Family and Property in the Abode of War,” looks at the legal status of mudéjares, who were regarded by some jurists as having given up their rights as Muslims by living as Christian subjects; others were more sympathetic. One of the central questions was whether Muslims who were living illicitly (from the point of view of the jurists) in Christian lands should be treated as “booty” and deprived of their rights as Muslims if they were captured by Muslim forces in the course of a raid. Finally, the last chapter, “European Rule in the 19th-Century Maghrib and the Reception of Reconquest-Era Law,” assesses the modern legacy of these various legal opinions, particularly in the colonial Maghrib. The conclusion situates Islamic jurisprudence as suspended between two poles: tradition and innovation, and shows that the muftis who passed judgment on their foreign-living fellow Muslims, were not merely extrapolating from Scripture, but were reacting to the particular historical circumstances and political conditions in which they found themselves. The book ends with a useful appendix of translations of various fatawa and other relevant documents.


    Altogether, Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista is a welcome addition to our understanding of the medieval Islamic jurisprudence and the status of minority Muslim populations in the Latin West; it will be of interest to students of Islamic history as well as of the history of medieval Spain. The book is handsomely produced. It is unfortunate that because of Brill’s pricing and marketing strategy, it will be out of reach for most scholars.




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