The interconnection of legal and social norms in the practice of fatwa-giving
Ahmad, Najah Nadi
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This thesis examines the dynamic interplay of the shared legal, personal, and societal commitments of mustaftis (petitioners), and muftis at Cairo's Dar Al-Iftaa, the official fatwa council, where I observed 140 fatwa sessions mostly concerning marital disputes. It focuses on the role and impact of fatwas in preserving social and gender relations in a society with increased religious tendencies and dispositions, such as the Egyptian society. The thesis demonstrates that the study of iftaa within its institutionalized and interactive channels could effectively enhance our understanding of the process of legal interpretation in general, and the power dynamics of social/gender relations in particular. Therefore, the thesis attempts to develop a model for the study of fatwas that gives consideration to petitioners, as agencies of the law; muftis, as social and religious interpreters; and the structures of the society of which fatwas are issued, as an influential, yet influenced element. The thesis demonstrates that Dar Al-Iftaa provides Egyptians with an alternative to courts for religious, marital, and social counseling. It further demonstrates how Dar Al-Iftaa aims at preserving marriages, and, by extension, the societal and gender norms. During the society preservation attempts, muftis adapted to the social patriarchal assumptions that give each married partner privileges in correspondence to their gender position in the society. Hence, I pay closer attention to women's involvement in male-dominated spaces such as religious institutions to negotiate their marital relations and to challenge the hegemonic structures of their society.