(Last Updated on : 03/09/2010)
Role of Mufti in state administration is believed to be quite significant in Islam
. The term Mufti refers to a scholar who is seen as the interpreter of the Sharia, Islamic Law. The Mufti has the power to issue verdicts known as Fatwas. In order to become a Mufti, one has to be a Sheikh, have complete mastery over the principles of Jurisprudence and be well-versed in the social sciences and the Arabic language. Of course a complete knowledge of the Shariah is a given.
In the early centuries scholarship was not organized. Usually scholars lived in cities but this was not the invariable rule. A man got a reputation for learning and students went to him wherever he might be. Learning came to mean knowledge of Islam, more particularly, of the law. A man troubled by a case of conscience took his problem to a scholar and accepted his answer as the solution of his difficulty. This was how the Mufits gained in importance as such a scholar was the Mufti and his answer was the Fatwa. Two parties could go to a judge whose decision was binding or they could go by agreement to a Mufti and abide by his ruling. By the year 1000 some Muftis had become officials and were present when the monarch or his deputy 'sat for complaints'. The Mufti was below the judge in rank yet the judge would state a case to the Mufti and accept his decision.
The importance of the Mufti in administration became evident in the rise to power of the chief Mufti of Constantinople. He was a very important person, and the European travellers compare him to a cardinal or even to the pope. His importance seems to have grown and did not come from a delegation of power by the Sultan. He was given the title 'Shaikh of Islam' and it was his duty to see that laws proposed by the Sultan did not contradict the law of Islam. An upright Shaikh of Islam could and did oppose the Sultan. More than once when a Sultan wished to exterminate or banish all Christians from the empire, the Shaikh forbade him because they were under the protection of the sacred law which guaranteed their lives and the free exercise of their religion so long as they paid the necessary taxes and did nothing to betray the state. About 1620 the sultan deprived the holder of the office of all his powers because he would not sanction the murder of the sultan's brother, but they were restored in the next reign.
Thus the importance of the Mufti in state administration gained ascendancy during the reign of Sultan. Later in 1632, when the Sultan had the Shaikh of Islam murdered, it did not affect the importance of the office. In 1909 when it was proposed to depose the sultan, the Shaikh was asked for a Fatwa declaring that the deposition was lawful. The Turks also appointed a chief mufti in Egypt. In Persia the Shaikhs of Islam were officials who presided over the religious courts in the big towns. The role of Muftis in state administration was thus quite important.