"Knowledge and Society" 3rd Research Seminar


Date: January 29th, 2000. (14:30~17:00).

Place: Institute of Oriental Culture, The University of Tokyo.

Report by MORIMOTO Kazuo

IIYAMA Akari gave a presentation entitled "Some Approaches to the Context of the Destruction of the Synagogue in Tuwat" at the 3rd research seminar. Not only researchers in Islamic studies but also scholars from many other disciplines, such as Western history, Indian history, education, and anthropology attended the seminar.

IIYAMA addressed the destruction of synagogues in Tuwat, Maghrib, which took place in the late 15th century. This incident has commonly been thought to have arisen from the upsurge of religious intolerance in Maghrib society. However, IIYAMA set forth a different view through her investigation of fatwas and political, economic, and sociological factors associated with the incident.

The destruction of the Synagogue was originally instigated by al-Maghili, an itinerant agitator who was in opposition to dhimmis. Al-Maghili and his followers turned to the jurists in Maghrib for a fatwa as they contended with al-Asnuni, a qadi who opposed the destruction. IIYAMA focused on the issues related to the system of the dhimma and the notion of maslaha among many deliberations that had been made about these fatawas. The debate among jurists and the underlying history of doctrines were explained.

It is important to remind ourselves here, although it is a subject often discussed, that the jurists deemed it important to circumvent internal disturbances in order to defend the maslaha. Among the jurists who passed fatwas, many scholars with high reputations and status opposed the destruction. It is also surmised from fragmentary statements in the historical sources that the rioting did not always comply with the will of the inhabitants. IIYAMA then explored the various aspects of the circumstances in Tuwat.

First, IIYAMA mentioned that Tuwat was a part of Bled al-Siba, which, politically speaking, was not under direct rule by the Moroccan regime. The people in Tuwat were dependent on the personal patronage of influential Muslims whereas the Judaists in cities such as Fez benefited by establishing reciprocal dependency with the monarchs. At the same time, north-south trade across the Sahara Desert declined due to the Portuguese inroads, and east-west trade over water instead became the major route for the mobilization of materials. IIYAMA argued that the consequential economic impasse was an important causal factor behind the incident. Finally, IIYAMA discussed her sociological observation that, even under such economic oppression, the people in Tuwat continued to stereotype Jews as wealthy merchants. Al-Maghili had offered a prize when he instigated the violence, and there were those people who did not hesitate to commit murder for such prize money.

Based on these considerations, IIYAMA concluded that the incident could not be adequately explained merely as an example of the religious intolerance present at the time and that a variety of elements within the Maghribian society gave rise to the destructive outburst. It was also pointed out that while it was merely a legal opinion au fond , a fatwa still had the power to sway society in some cases. IIYAMA emphasized that many jurists were against al-Maghili, attaching much importance to the public security. It is also critical, according to IIYAMA, to consider the local perspective when one attempts to understand why dhimmis continue to dwell in the Islamic world.

An argument was raised from the audience that the existence of local-level contexts would not exempt researchers from paying attention to the connection between the destruction of synagogues and other anti-Semitic movements of the time, which had spread over Spain and South America. IIYAMA refuted this claim by indicating that Maghrib had not experienced many anti-Semitic uprisings throughout its history and that the anti-Semitism found in the Christian world was quite different in nature from that of the Islamic world . In response to IIYAMA's assertion that a fatwa is merely a legal opinion, some remarked that the authority of a fatwa should be more accentuated. IIYAMA's presentation provoked me to ponder over the mindset of the instigators of the incident, who had petitioned for a fatwa despite that it had seemed feasible for them to conduct the riot even without a fatwa. This seminar, like the first seminar, embodied the fascination and intricacy of fatwa studies.