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Fetva Diplomacy: The Ottoman Şeyhülislam as Trans-Imperial Intermediary

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This article explores the role of the şeyhülislam, the mufti of Istanbul and the head of the Ottoman religious-legal hierarchy, as a diplomatic intermediary and introduces the concept of “fetva diplomacy.” Anyone of any confession could request a fetva (Arabic: fatwa), a non-binding legal opinion, from the şeyhülislam. From the late sixteenth century, this openness to all comers led foreign powers’ representatives to cultivate close ties with the şeyhülislam, often seeking his intercession and his fetvas to support their interests. Examining the diplomatic aftermath of a 1624 corsair raid on Venetian territories, this essay shows how fetva diplomacy worked in practice and how the legitimacy and religious bona fides of the şeyhülislam were harnessed to give Islamic legal sanction to pragmatic political and diplomatic decisions.

Affiliations: 1: University of Virginia


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