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Ethics, tradition, authority: Toward an anthropology of the fatwa

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ABSTRACT

Prevailing approaches to the fatwa construe it as primarily an instrument of Islamic doctrinal change and reform, as bridging the constant gap between a settled doctrinal past and a future of continual novelty. Underpinning these approaches are familiar but questionable assumptions about temporality, imitation, creativity, and tradition that obscure the fatwa's integral ethical dimensions and our understandings of its pervasive authority. This article unsettles these assumptions and, through ethnography of the Fatwa Council of Al-Azhar in Cairo, offers a different view of the fatwa that helps us both understand its ethical authority and challenges conventional oppositions between authority and ethical agency.

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