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SEAP Gatty Lecture Series

Thursday, March 29, 2018 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

"The Politics of the Fatwa"

Jeremy Menchik, Assistant Professor, Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University

While anthropologists have developed nuanced theories for the role of fatwas in culture and law, scholars lack a clear explanation for the power of fatwas in politics. What kind of authority do fatwas embody? What are the implications for politics in Indonesia and the broader Muslim world? To answer these questions, this paper focuses on the Indonesian Council of Ulama (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, MUI), which over the past fifteen years has become as one of the most powerful actors in Indonesian politics. Fatwas from MUI have shaped public debates and state policies concerning blasphemy, religious pluralism, minority rights, pornography, smoking, and interfaith relations, among other issues. The paper distinguishes between three distinct periods in the history of MUI and demonstrates that in each era, fatwas from MUI exerted authority through distinct mechanisms. The paper then describes how MUI’s autonomous institutes exert regulatory authority over sharia banking and food certification through different mechanisms. By doing so, the paper explains the power of one of the most misunderstood actors in Indonesia. More theoretically, the paper argues that in the contemporary Muslim world, fatwas contain no innate authority nor do they have any inherent effects. Understanding the power of fatwas requires understanding the interests and values of a specific actor, at a specific time, in response to a specific set of events.


Co-sponsored by the Cornell Comparative Muslim Societies Program

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Government, Comparative Muslim Societies Program, Southeast Asia Program, South Asia Program

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SEAP Graduate Student Committee

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Jeremy Menchik

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Boston University

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