The Marja‘iyya and the Juristic Challenges of the Diaspora

  • Liyakat Takim
Keywords: Marji‘, fiqh al-Aqalliyya, Sistani, hand-shaking, mustahdathat, diaspora


In recent times, there has been much discourse on the significance and function of the term jurisprudence of minorities (fiqh al-aqalliyya). The term, which is also called diasporic jurisprudence, refers to the issuance of juristic ordinances to accommodate the needs of Muslims residing in non-Muslim majorities, with special requirements that may not be appropriate for other communities.

This paper argues that, due to the hierarchical nature of leadership inherent in Shi‘ism, Shi'i jurists (maraji)‘ have responded to the needs of their communities that live as minorities in the West by recasting Islamic legal discourse on Muslim minorities and reconciling Islamic legal categories to the demands of the times. It will demonstrate this genre of jurisprudence addresses a wide range of topics that were either not traditionally discussed in Islamic juridical manuals or represent a revision of earlier formulations. The paper demonstrates that most of the rulings are casuistic in nature and do not represent a fully-fledged legal system. Many edicts have been either imported to the diaspora or relaxed when abiding by these injunctions have created difficulties (haraj) for the faithful believers. As will be discussed, Shi‘i minority fiqh is restricted to the collection of fatawa (religious edicts) produced in the seminaries by jurists who do not fully comprehend the challenges experienced by their followers living in the diasporic milieu.