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Al-Nawawī's Typology of Muftīs and its Significance for a General Theory of Islamic Law

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This essay offers, in Section 2, a translation of al-Nawawī's presentation of the hierarchy of Muftīs. The context of the passage and its terminology and arguments are explored in the other Sections in order to assess their implications for the general character of Islamic juristic activities. Section 1 identifies two themes central to the text, namely loyalty to madhhab and differentiation of the task of the teaching jurist and the muftī. The first of these is elaborated in Section 3, which points to formal qualities of presentation and argument which assert the hermeneutical continuity of the school tradition; and in Section 4, which deals with the pivotal role of the founding imām in the legitimation of the school tradition. Section 5 takes up the terms taqlīd and ijtihād and shows that al-Nawawī's usage points towards a complex resolution of the recent debate about the open/closed door of ijtihād. The last Section returns to the original two themes to make two suggestions: (1) that taqlīd may be assessed as a principal of vitality within a hermeneutical tradition; (2) that the author-jurist (not the practising muftī) is the dominant creative agent within the ongoing juristic traditions.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Manchester

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