The Mudejars and the Lingering Fear of Innovation and Religious Corruption

In “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century al-Andalus,” Janina Safran examines legal texts of the Andalusi ‘ulama to reveal that the close proximity of Muslims and Christians (as the minority group) elicited anxieties among Muslims which primarily centered on the introduction of innovations that would corrupt the faith.[1] Fast-forward six hundred years to a reversal of this political situation, where Muslims formed the minority under Christian polities, and one can see that these anxieties largely remained the same, despite the power reversal. Other historical examples of this abound and this is, in large part, due to the presence of this preoccupation in the Qur’an and hadith; however, the degree to which such anxieties are warranted varies. Examining the Asna al-Matair and Marabella fatwas by al Wansharisi (translated by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson), it is possible to sift through the debates surrounding the historical veracity and authorial authenticity of these texts to highlight some of the key contemporary anxieties, of which religious innovations is paramount. In examining Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni, we find a primary source attesting to how genuine these concerns might have been.

The Asna al-Matajir and Marabella fatwas by al-Wansharisi contain concerns for Muslim minority populations remaining under Christian majority rule in Iberia and represents a watershed moment in the fiqh, not because this situation was unique (in fact, it had happened in the Holy Land during the Crusades and in Sicily with the Norman invasions)[2], but because the documents that relate to these concerns have been well-preserved and made available to us.[3] This is more likely to have happened with regards to Iberia because the Muslim population coming under Christian rule there would have been much larger, warranting more attention to this matter. Additionally, encroachments along the coastal regions of the Maghrib by the Portuguese would have warranted a greater need for the emigration of Muslims there, allowing for the fortification of military arrangements and lending manpower in a time of fitnah.[4] There is some debate around whether or not the questioner in these fatwas (named Abu ‘Abd Allah ibn Qatiya) was real, or if he was conjured as a strawman to give al-Wansharisi a platform for his research opinion. Additionally, the authenticity of this being al-Wansharisi’s opinion is also in question as, it appears, that the bulk of both of these fatwas was plagiarized from a fatwa of similar concerns by Ibn Rabi. Regardless of these questions of verification and authorship, these fatwas still provide us with a window into some dominant concerns related to Muslim minority populations living under Christian rule.

In the Asna, the land of Christian-majority rule is characterized by “sin and falsehood”, which will result in “oppression or discord (fitnah)” for Muslims who remain there.[5] Among the recommendations to take only other Muslims as allies[6], to emigrate to guarantee the inviolability of Muslim property[7], to avoid the seduction of “ephemeral worldly pursuits”[8], and to stop paying taxes in financial support of Christians[9], is a persistence about the problem of religious corruption from living under Christians. In fact, al-Wansharisi goes so far as to say that “their corrupting ideas (fitna) are more severely damaging than the trials of hunger, fear, or the plundering of people and property.”[10] The repetition of the term fitnah here illustrates that it is used to represent both discord and corrupting ideas. This is a testament to the term’s overall connotations that corruptive ideas bring religious innovation and eventually total discord. Instability or chaos comes from bid’ah (innovation).

Where the fear of religious corruption is embedded in the Asna, it is the chief concern in the Marabella fatwa. Here, al-Wansharisi’s answer is dominated by concerns over “the pollutions, the filth, and the religious and worldly corruptions to which this gives rise.”[11] Paramount among these corruptions are the problems created for Islamic orthopraxis: the fulfillment of prayers (belittled and ridiculed), the giving of alms (to a legitimate ruler), fasting during Ramadan (which requires the sighting of the moon by an appropriate imam or deputy), the Hajj (which is no longer possible) and the waging of jihad.[12] Since Islam is not a Deen of orthodoxy (or the possession of internal beliefs alone), the removal of the possibility of practice (in their eyes) would be the equivalent of religious contamination, if not total destruction. Further, sexual and marital corruption are couched in similar terms, contrary to what one might expect in the modern, post-Blood period – that is, that mixing would be a contamination of kinship lines. The concern about a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man is in the expected fact that he would “entice and mislead her as to her religion, overpowering her so that she submits to him, and so that apostasy and religious corruption come between her and her guardian.”[13] Additionally, the loss of language is associated with the loss of the acts of worship.[14]

It is not only in the answers to the questioners that we find a preoccupation with religious innovation, and perhaps this is the point at which it is most expected to arise. Rather, embedded within the questions themselves, a fear of bid’ah reveals itself. If we look back to the debate of authorship and authenticity regarding the existence of these questioners, we have to recognize that the presence of these anxieties in the questions does not necessarily translate into representing real-world fear of innovation. If these questioners were, however, constructed as strawmen by al-Wansharisi, their fears still reaffirm his fears also found in his answers. In the Ansa, the questioner (“ibn Qatiya”) discusses the intentions of a group of Andalusis to emigrate, presuming that they originally came to Maghrib “for the sake of God, taking with them [only] their religion.”[15] It was not until they arrived in the Maghrib and found that the material reality available to them was worse than they realized it would be that they began to curse their emigration. Because actions in Islamic contexts are how niyyah (intention) is deduced,[16] this showed that their intention for emigration had never been pure or predicated on “the true purpose of emigration [which is] the protection of religion, family and offspring.”[17] Similarly, in the Marabella fatwa, the question of giving dispensation for one man to continue living in Iberia as a representative of the Muslim minority population is negated by greater concerns about “major ritual impurities” which would result in one’s inability to practice their Islam – giving way to the possibility (even certainty) of religious corruption.[18]

While we have seen that innovation has been a preoccupation for Muslims and Islamic authorities throughout time[19], how warranted was this concern at this particular point in time? A comprehensive analysis is needed, but for the purposes of this paper, I will examine the first chapter of Ica de Gebir’s Breviario Sunni to shed a small amount of light on this issue. As was pointed out by Dr. Jocelyn Hendrickson, the beginning of this chapter, while mentioning the five pillars of Islam, disperses them amongst Commandments that resonate with those found in the Old Testament, including not taking the Creator’s name in vain and not committing murder or fornication.[20] It is also within the first couple of lines that we have mention of one’s neighbour – a figure that permeates the text as someone you must not only desire things for (which you also want for yourself), but also someone to be honoured, someone who must not be lived next to if evil, and eventually, someone who could be Allah with the right course taken.[21] Though the neighbour figures into Islamic discourse[22], it is much more closely associated with Biblical scripture imploring the loving of one’s neighbour and its repetition in this text could signify an allusion to Christian texts or doctrine.[23] Further, perhaps the most important clause of the entire text reads, “be faithful to your lord, even though he is not a Muslim”[24] – a sentiment in direct tension with the arguments of al-Wansharisi’s fatwas which came after them. We cannot deduce direct causation between these documents (ie. that the sentiment that one caused the other to be written); however, if Mudejars had been convincing themselves overall to accept non-Muslim rulers (as is evidenced in all three texts), this would be grounds for issuing fatwas condemning such obedience, particularly for the reasons of detriment to praxis outlined above. While there are clear forbiddances of adopting Christian practices and an emphasis on both knowing and enforcing Islamic law, that does not take away from the fact that this chapter and other parts of the text are permeated through with Christian sentiments – and exactly because of their submersion in the text, these would have caused serious anxiety in prominent religious scholars who recognized that the most dangerous forms of innovation are those that go undetected and are assimilated as part of Islam.[25] The line between what Islam shares with Christianity because of their perceived Abrahamic origins and what is inappropriately adopted from them in the post-revelation era is defined by an ever-elusive line.

This paper will have to end here with the conclusion that like other eras of Islamic history, preoccupations of religious scholars during the Mudejar period centred on the problem religious innovation. While the al-Wansharisi fatwas can also be used to show how Portuguese encroachments on Maghrib coastlines were also an anxiety or can expose the inner politics of subjectivity in the writing of fatwas, there is still an undeniable religious dimension to these texts that is not contrived. Though this realization might seem self-evident based on what we seen in the studied primary texts and what we know of the centrality of Bid’ah as a problem in the Qur’an and hadith, future archival and primary source research is needed to push all of this a step further – namely, in looking at how highlighting the overwhelming concern of religious innovation for Muslims helps for understanding (comparatively) what sorts of anxieties plagued Christians about intermixing, acculturation and conversions. Where Muslim dissuasion of interactions with Christians have been put in terms of the fear of bid’ah and Christian conversions to Islam seem to have been couched in concerns over the loss of their tax contributions and political tensions that might result, Christians have shown not only disinterest in religious corruption, but the regular dismissal of Others, distinguishing them by virtue of ethnic origins (blood), even when they had converted to Christianity. Alas, this is research for another time.[26]

[1] Safran, Janina, “Identity and Differentiation in Ninth Century Al-Andalus” in Speculum, Vol 76:3, 2001. pp. 576

[2] Indeed, this reasoning even appears in the Asna fatwa in Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 10.

[3] Documents for other areas of Muslim minority existence certainly exist; however, it is my understanding that their number is far fewer than as it relates to Iberia. Sarah David-Secord’s “Muslims in Norman Sicily: The Evidence of Imam al-Mazari’s Fatwas” (Mediterranean Studies, Vol 16; 2007; p 46-66) is worth a read for that particular case. More research is needed on this.

[4] Hendrickson, Jocelyn, “Muslim Legal Responses to Portuguese Occupation in Late Fifteenth Century North Africa” in Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Vol 12:3, 2011, pp 309-325.

[5] Al-Wansharisi, Ahmad. “Asna al-matajir” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson, in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix A, p 3

[6] Ibid p 6-7

[7] Ibid p 14-15

[8] Ibid p 21

[9] Ibid p 23; Financial support of the Christians through taxes was presumably perceived as being to the detriment of Muslims in the distant hopes of taking back al-Andalus but more realistically in defeating Christians along the Moroccan coast. See footnote 4.

[10] Ibid p 22

[11] Ahmad al-Wansharisi, “The Marabella fatwa” trans. Jocelyn Hendrickson in “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharisi’s Asna al-Matajir Reconsidered,” PhD dissertation, Emory University. Appendix B, p 32

[12] Ibid p 33-34

[13] Ibid p 36; This understanding of the corruptive possibilities of mixed marriage also represents a continuity with fears shown in legal texts in the ninth century – see Safran, p 583.

[14] Ibid

[15] Asna, translation, p 2

[16] Rosen, Laurence. Bargaining for Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community. University of Chicago Press (Chicago and London) 1984.

[17] Asna, translation, P 3

[18] Marabella fatwa, translation, p 31

[19] See Safran reference above. Additionally, as mentioned in the introduction, the fear of Bid’ah (innovation) can be found in Qur’anic and hadith sources as well. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “…Verily he among you who lives [long] will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Khalifahs – cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray, and every going astray is in Hell-fire.” [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi]; Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) said: “He who innovates something that is not in agreement with our matter (religion), will have it rejected.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] Bid’ah arises from the following scenarios: Ignorance (“Allah does not erase knowledge (from earth) by erasing knowledge from slaves (hearts). Rather, He erases knowledge through the death of scholars. When He leaves (earth) without scholars, people will take the ignorant as leaders (and scholars). They (the ignorant) will be asked and then give Fatawa without knowledge. Then, they will be lead, and will lead astray.” [Ahmad]); Being led by desire (“But if they answer you not O Muhammad, then know that they only follow their own lusts. And who is more astray then one who follows his own lust (desires) without the guidance from Allah” [Noble Quran 28:50]); blindly follow anyone (““Follow what Allah has sent down.” They say: “Nay! We shall follow what we found our fathers following. Even though their fathers did not understand anything, nor were they guided.” [Noble Quran 2:170]”); and imitating non-Muslims (The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allahu Akbar! It is the Sunan (traditions of the Mushrikun). You said by He Who has my soul in His Hand, what the children of Israel said toMoses: “Make for us gods as they have gods. He said: ‘Verily! You area people who know not.” [7:138]). Other examples of Bid’ah as a continuing anxiety throughout Islamic history could be outlined in a future research paper.

[20] De Gebir, “Breviario Sunni” in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 470

[21] Ibid, p 471-2

[22] Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As: Mujahid said that Abdullah ibn Amr slaughtered a sheep and said: Have you presented a gift from it to my neighbour, the Jew, for I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Gabriel kept on commending the neighbour to me so that I thought he would make an heir? – Sunan Abu Dawood, 2446; Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab from al-Araj from Abu Hurayra that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “No one should prevent his neighbour from fixing a wooden peg in his wall.” Then Abu Hurayra said, “Why do I see you turning away from it? By Allah! I shall keep on at you about it.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 36, Number 32; Yahya related to me from Malik from Said ibn Abi Said al-Maqburi from Abu Shurayh al-Kabi that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or be silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be generous to his neighbour. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should be generous to his guest. His welcome is for a day and a night, and his hospitality is for three days. Whatever is more than that is sadaqa. It is not halal for a guest to stay with a man until he becomes a burden.” – Malik Al-Muwatta, Volume 49, Number 22; Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: The best friend in the sight of Allah is he who is the well-wisher of his companions, and the best neighbour is one who behaves best towards his neighbours. Transmitted by Tirmidhi. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 120; Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr: Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “The best companion in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his companion, and the best neighbour in Allah’s estimation is the one who is best to his neighbour.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1287; Narrated AbdurRahman ibn AbuQurad: The Prophet performed ablution one day and his companion began to wipe themselves with the water he had used. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked them what induced them to do that, and when they replied that it was love for Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) he said, “If anyone is pleased to love Allah and His Messenger, (peace be upon him) or rather to have Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) love him, he should speak the truth when he tells anything, fulfil his trust when he is put in a position of trust, and be a good neighbour.” Bayhaqi transmitted it in Shu’ab al-Iman. – Al-Tirmidhi, Number 1289; Narrated AbuDharr: Allah’s Apostle said: AbuDharr, when you prepare the broth, add water to that and give that (as a present) to your neighbour. – Sahih Muslim, 1208 Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Messenger of Allah) observed: He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not secure from his wrongful conduct. – Sahih Muslim, 15; Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Number 114; Narrated Abu Shuraih: The Prophet said, “By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe!” It was said, “Who is that, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “That person whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil.” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 45; Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).” – Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Number 47.

[23] Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39, 1 John 4:11, John 15:13

[24] De Gebir, p 471.

[25] This is a point concurred even in the introductory paragraph to the text written by Olivia Remie Constable and echoed in her quotation from L.P. Harvey on the subject, that de Gebir’s text seems to seamlessly combine “orthodox Islamic precepts with (often contradictory) ideas from Christian writings,” likely as a result of the stresses on Muslim minorities living under Christian-dominant polities. (470)

[26] Some preliminary texts that have alerted me to this difference (making the proving of bid’ah as uniquely central to Islam and not Christianity) are: Lex Visigothorum in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012, p 24- 25; Siete Partidas in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources. Olivia Remie Constable, ed. Majd Yaser Al-Mallah, trans. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2012 401-2 and 404; Sicroff, Albert, Los Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Taurus Ediciones, 1985. Chiami, Pablo, Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre, Centro de Investigación y Difusión de la Cultura Sefardí, 2000; and Anidjar, Gil. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. Columbia University Press: 2014. Much more research is needed to quantify Anidjar’s overall anthropological thesis with meticulous archival research it is currently lacking.

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