Islamic law and the crisis of the Reconquista : the debate on the status of Muslim communities in Christendom

  • Book Title:
 Islamic Law And The Crisis Of The Reconquista
  • Book Author:
Alan Verskin
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The Reconquista left unprecedentedly large numbers of Muslims living under Christian rule. Since Islamic religious and legal institutions had been developed by scholars who lived under Muslim rule and who assumed this condition as a given, how Muslims should proceed in the absence of such rule became the subject of extensive intellectual investigation. In Islamic Law and the Crisis of the Reconquista, Alan Verskin examines the way in which the Iberian school of Mālikī law developed in response to the political, theological, and practical difficulties posed by the Reconquista. He shows how religious concepts, even those very central to the Islamic religious experience, could be rethought and reinterpreted in order to respond to the changing needs of Muslims.

Contents –

  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Historical Overview 3
  • The Jurists on Muslim-Christian Relations 6
  • The Works of al-Wansharīsī on the Mudéjars 11
  • Modern Analyses of the Mālikī Position on the Mudéjars 18
  • The Genre of the Sources 26
  • The Concept of Hijra (Migration) in Medieval Iberia and the Maghrib 31
  • Hijra in the Early Islamic Period 31
  • Practicing Hijra in the Maghrib: Fāṭimids, Almoravids and Almohads 34
  • The Mālikī Jurists and the Concept of Hijra 38
  • Egyptian Mālikīs and the Concept of Hijra 48
  • Another Source of Prohibition Against Living in Non-Muslim Territory 52
  • Conclusion 60
  • The Status of the Mudéjar Religious Leadership According to Mālikī Law 61
  • Juristic Thought Prior to the Fourteenth Century 63
  • The Fall of the Almohads and the Emergence of New Attitudes Toward the Mudéjar ʿUlamāʾ 68
  • Life, Family and Property in the Abode of War 83
  • The Views of Mālik b. Anas and His Early Disciples 83
  • The Views of the Pre-Reconquista Era Mālikī Jurists 86
  • Mālikī Law During the Reconquista 93
  • European Rule in the 19th-Century Maghrib and the Reception of Reconquista-Era Law 106
  • The French in the Maghrib, ʿAbd al-Qādir, and the Response of the Jurists 106
  • ʿAbd al-Qādir on Hijra and Living under Christian Rule 114
  • Fatwās which Limit Hijra and Give Support to Muslims Who Live under Christian Rule 119
  • .viii                                                                                        contents
  • Al-Wazzānī on Living under Christian Rule 124
  • Non-Juristic Approaches to the Issue of Non-Muslim Rule 129
  • Conclusion 133
  • Appendix A 137
  • Al-Wansharīsī: On the Leader of the Muslims of Christian Marbella
  • Appendix B 144
  • Al-Wansharīsī’s Asnā al-matājir
  • Introduction 146
  • Evidence from the Qurʾān 147
  • Ibn Rushd (d. 520/1126) Prohibits Residence in the Abode of War 152
  • A Discussion of the Views of Ibn Rushd 153
  • Evidence from the adīth 154
  • Ways of Reconciling Contrary adīths on Migration 155
  • Excerpts from Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Works on the Status of Muslims Who Fail to Migrate 156
  • Ibn al-ʿArabī: Even Those Who Barely Qualify as Muslims Because They Had Improper Conversions Receive Protection for their Lives and Property 157
  • Disagreements Regarding the Kinds of Protection Afforded to Muslims Living in the Abode of War 158
  • Does Islam or the Abode of Islam Provide Protection? 160
  • The Law Regarding Those Who Defame the Abode of Islam 164
  • The Legal Credibility of Muslims Who Reside in the Abode of Unbelief 167
  • The Legitimacy of Judges and Professional Witnesses Who Reside in the Abode of Unbelief 167
  • The Fate in the Hereafter of Muslims Who Live in the Abode of Unbelief 170
  • Is There Such a Thing as “Thought Crime” in Islamic Law or are Punishments Only for Evil Acts? 171
  • Conclusion 173
  • Bibliography 175
  • Sources in Arabic 175
  • Non-Arabic Secondary Sources 183
  • Index 200


The Reconquista, or Christian conquest of Muslim Iberia, precipitated a great intellectual crisis for Muslims.1 For most of Islamic history, the vast majority of Muslims had lived under some kind of Islamic ruler. Islam’s religious and legal institutions, which had developed under such political conditions, had naturally taken a Muslim ruler as a given.

 As a result of the Reconquista, Islamic scholars had to contemplate what it would mean for Islam to be prac- ticed without such a ruler. They had to determine whether a Muslim ruler was assumed in Islamic legal texts simply as a result of historical circumstances or because the ruler was an essential part of the Islamic legal system.

This book examines the way in which jurists of the Mālikī legal school, the legal school which came to predominate in the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghrib,2 developed Islamic law in response to the political, theological, and practical difficulties posed by the Reconquista.

It shows how religious concepts, even those very central to the Islamic religious experience, could be rethought and reinterpreted in order to respond to the changing needs of Muslims. Although most of this book focuses on the Reconquista period, its final chapter exam- ines how the legal positions formulated by the jurists of this period shaped nineteenth-century Muslim responses to French rule in the Maghrib.3

Extensive legal discussions about living under non-Muslim rule in the pre-modern period tend to occur only in the context of great political cri- sis and confrontation with non-Muslim societies. The formative texts of the Sunnī legal schools, most of which were written in the heartlands of Islamic territory, have very little to say about the matter. For them, Islamic territory (dār al-Islām)4 was vast and expanding. The issues pertaining to life under non-Muslim rule were a rare exception to this rule to which they gave little, if any, attention.

 The limited territorial gains made by non-Muslim powers, for example, those made by the Byzantines or the Crusader kingdoms, were never dealt with extensively by jurists.5

The major exception to the silence of the jurists on questions pertaining to life under non-Muslim rule was their responses to the Reconquista.6

The Iberian Peninsula was an area with well-established Muslim communities, and its gradual reconquest over the course of several hundred years left an aftermath so great in human terms that it compelled the jurists to deal with it. It is therefore very often to this period that subsequent jurists turn in order to probe what little the tradition has to say about matters pertaining to life under Christian rule.

As I will discuss, this act of juristic reflection occurred during the nineteenth-century French conquest of the Maghrib when Muslims again had to consider the religious and legal implications of living under a Christian government.

Historical Overview

The Muslim political presence in Iberia dates to 92/7117 when Muslim armies seized control of the region excepting some small Christian enclaves in the north. Although skirmishes with Christian powers had occurred from the very inception of Muslim rule, the Reconquista itself is usually said to have begun towards the end of the fifth/eleventh century with the conquering of such significant Muslim centers as Toledo (478/1085) and Huesca (489/1096).8

Further conquests, however, were deferred for over a century by the Almoravids and the Almohads, two consecutive Maghribī dynasties which held the Christians at bay and even recovered some lost territory. In the seventh/thirteenth cen- tury, the tide again turned in favor of the Christians.

 The Almohad dynasty weakened and then dissolved and Christians were once again able to gain several significant victories, including the capture of the Kingdom of Valencia (636/1238), which had a particularly large Muslim population. This momen- tum continued and, before the close of the ninth/fifteenth century, not only had Muslim rule entire t Christians also occupied much of the Maghribī coast.9

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