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Wansharīsī, Aḥmad al-

By:
Jocelyn Hendrickson
Source:
The [Oxford] Encyclopedia of Islam and Law What is This? An English-language legal reference for scholars of Islamic studies and Western engaged readers presenting the history and development of Islamic Law.

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Wansharīsī, Aḥmad al-

Aḥmad Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā al-Wansharīsī (c. 1430–1508) was a North African Mālikī legal scholar, likely born in northwestern Algeria’s Wansharīs (Ouarsenis) Mountains, from which his family name derives. He spent the first half of his life in Tlemcen, where he completed an education in the legal and linguistic sciences with the Zayyānid capitol’s most eminent scholars and began his career as a legal scholar, teacher, and jurisconsult (mufti). For unknown reasons, the sultan ordered al-Wansharīsī’s home ransacked, and he fled to Fez in 1469, where he remained until his death in 1508. In Fez, al-Wansharīsī taught in a number of madrasahs, earned praise for his exceptional knowledge of Mālikī law and Arabic linguistics, issued fatwas (legal opinions), and authored most of his nearly thirty treatises, books, and compilations.

Al-Wansharīsī’s most important work is al-Miʿyār al-muʿrib waʾl-jāmiʿ al-mughrib ʿan fatāwā ʿulamāʾ Ifrīqiyā waʾl-Andalus waʾl-Maghrib (The Clear Standard and Extraordinary Collection of the Legal Opinions of the Scholars of Ifrīqiyā, al-Andalus, and the Maghrib). This vast compilation of legal opinions includes approximately six thousand fatwas issued by hundreds of muftis in North Africa (Ifrīqiyā and the Maghrib) and Muslim Iberia (al-Andalus) from the ninth through the fifteenth centuries. The Miʿyār, organized according to the standard categories of Islamic legal works, includes opinions on a comprehensive range of topics, including ritual obligations, relations with non-Muslims, marriage and divorce, criminal law, contracts and commerce, charitable endowments, inheritance, and procedural law. By the sixteenth century, the Miʿyār had become a core textbook and reference work for students and legal professionals working within the Mālikī school, the dominant school of Islamic law in North Africa and formerly in Islamic Iberia.

The Miʿyār, published as a lithograph edition in Fez in 1896–1897 and as a thirteen-volume modern printed edition in Rabat and Beirut in 1981–1983, has been of immense value for historians. The wealth of information this work provides concerning the social, economic, cultural, legal, religious, and political history of medieval al-Andalus and North Africa sets it apart from other fatwa compilations, as does the inclusion of a number of primary legal documents such as contracts, deeds, and bequests that include specific dates and names, details normally edited out of compiled fatwas.

Al-Wansharīsī included some of his own responsa in the Miʿyār, the most important of which are two fatwas upholding the obligation of Muslims under non-Muslim rule in conquered al-Andalus to emigrate to Muslim territory. The first, dated September 1491, is titled Asnā al-matājir fī bayān aḥkām man ghalaba ʿalā waṭanihi al-Naṣārā wa-lam yuhājir, wa-mā yatarattabu ʿalayhi min al-ʿuqūbāt wa-lʾzawājir (The Most Noble Commerce: An Exposition of the Rulings Governing One Whose Native Land Has Been Conquered by the Christians and Who Did Not Emigrate, and the Punishments and Admonishments Accruing to Him), while the second is known as “the Marbella fatwa.” The large number of Muslims currently living as religious minorities has increased interest in these legal opinions, which are the most prominent pre-modern fatwas on the status of Muslims living outside Muslim-controlled territory.

Bibliography

  • Hendrickson, Jocelyn. “The Islamic Obligation to Emigrate: Al-Wansharīsī’s Asnā al-matājir Reconsidered.” Diss. Emory University, 2009. Includes the first full English translations of al-Wansharīsī’s fatwas on the obligation to emigrate.
  • Powers, David S. Law, Society, and Culture in the Maghrib, 1300–1500. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Discusses al-Wansharīsī’s compilation of the Miʿyār and exemplifies the scholarship on the medieval Maghrib made possible by this compilation. Find it in your Library
  • Vidal Castro, Francisco. “Aḥmad al-Wanšarīsī (m. 914/1508): Principales aspectos de su vida.” Al-Qanṭara 12, no. 2 (1991): 315–352.
  • Vidal Castro, Francisco. “Las obras de Aḥmad al-Wanšarīsī (m. 914/1508): Inventario analítico.” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes 3 (1992): 73–112. These two articles offer the most comprehensive accounts of al-Wansharīsī’s life and works.
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