1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Muftī

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MUFTĪ,[1] a consulting canon-lawyer in Islām, who, upon application, gives fatwās (fetvas) or legal opinions on points of canon law (see Mahommedan Law). These are asked and given in strictly impersonal form, but the cadi, or judge, then applies them to the case and decides in accordance with them. In theory, any learned man whose opinion is respected and whose advice is sought can give fatwās. But generally in a Muslim state there are muftīs specifically appointed by the government, one for each school of canon law in each place. Each of these renders opinions in accordance with the law-books of his school; he has no scope for free interpretation; everything is fixed there and he must follow the precedents of the elders. In Turkey there is a chief muftī, called the Sheikh al-Islām, whose office was created by the Ottoman sultan, Mahommed II., in 1453, after the capture of Constantinople. He is, in a sense, the head of the ecclesiastical side of the state, that controlled by canon law; while the grand vizier is at the head of secular matters. Although his powers are delegated by the sultan-caliph, and he is appointed and can be dismissed by him, yet in his fatwā-issuing power he is independent. The sultan may dismiss him before he has a chance to issue a fatwā; but if he once issues it the result is legally automatic, even though it means the deposition of the sultan himself. Thus it was by a fatwā of the Sheikh al-Islām that the sultan Abdul Hamid was deposed.

See Juynboll, De mohammedaansche Wet., 40 sqq.; De Slane's trans. of Ibn Khaldun's Prolégomènes, I. Ixxviii. 447 seq.; Turkey in Europe, by “Odysseus,” 131 seq.; Young, Corps de droit ottoman I. x., 285, 289. (D. B. Ma.)


  1. The use of the word for plain or civilian clothes worn instead of uniform is originally Anglo-Indian. It may have been suggested by the loose flowing robes of the stage “muftī,” and thus implied any easy dress worn by an officer when out of uniform.