- Fellowship Dates 2010-2010
- Research Topic Islam, Tradition and Reform: The Case of the Egyptian Ulama
- Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
- Affiliation Pre-doctoral candidate McGill University
Modern academic scholarship on Islamic law tends to direct its attention towards two specific areas of legal history: the formative period, which witnessed the rise of the predominant legal schools, and the activity of the Reform movement associated most closely with the famous Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905). Islamic Reformism is thought to provide the most fruitful framework for reconciliation between Islamic law and modern liberal values, like democracy and human rights. However, scholarship that seeks to make this case is repeatedly subject to criticism of inauthenticity for straying too far from the traditional strictures of the textual and institutional authority of “orthodox” Islam. Lying behind these objections is an appreciation for the particular way in which Islamic law functioned as an enterprise dominated by religious elites endowed with unparalleled epistemic and moral authority.
This research centers on Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i (d. 1935), a leading member of the ulama in Egypt. It focuses on one of Bakhit’s legal treatises arguing that it departs from his traditional predecessors, and reworks a long-standing, strictly-delineated hierarchy of interpretive-juristic authority and effectively argues for an increased democratization of authority – an intellectual commitment that has long been associated solely with the Reformists. Using sources from Cairo library collections, fatwas issued during Bakhit’s appointment as Mufti of Egypt (1914-1921) and lectures, this research tests whether Bakhit’s standing as a “traditionalist” or “orthodox” scholar made his incorporation of reformist commitments more palatable to both the ulama and the masses.