Islamic Studies Fiqh Al-Aqalliyyat
Alexandre Caeiro
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0027


The Muslim jurisprudence of minorities (fiqh al-aqalliyyat or minority fiqh) has emerged as a distinctive field of research in the wake of the post–World War II establishment of sizable Muslim populations in western Europe and North America. Although Muslims have lived as minorities throughout history, the minority condition itself was not considered worthy of systematic reflection on the part of premodern Muslim jurists. The current debate on whether Muslims should devise a new understanding of Islamic law for minorities is therefore a thoroughly modern one, engaging a wide number of contemporary Muslim scholars and intellectuals. The task at hand is to understand what is precisely at stake in this debate from a religious perspective; how the different opinions held by Muslim actors may relate to the positions they occupy in the global Islamic religious field; how these Muslim debates are shaped by conditions in the secular societies of Europe and North America; and what understandings of “Islam” and of the “West” they presuppose.

General Overviews

Scholars have debated and disagreed on whether the Muslim communities living in the West today are unprecedented and if so, what the bases for this novelty are. Abou El Fadl 1994 provides an authoritative account of the diversity and nuances of classical Muslim discourses on the minority condition. Masud 1989 and Roy 1999 elaborate models for the minority condition in Islam. Van Koningsveld 2006 and Waardenburg 2000 seek to redirect research on Muslim minorities toward the study of normative Islam. March 2009 considers a broad range of contemporary Islamic discourses on the minority status and their implications for liberal political theory. Rohe 2007 discusses the idea of a European Sharia in its legal and ethical dimensions, while Hellyer 2009 relates Muslim discussions on minority fiqh to ongoing redefinitions of Europeanness. Césari 2004 provides a panorama of the sociological transformations of Muslim minorities in the West. The overviews noted here should ideally be read in conjunction with the wider literature on Muslim minorities (see the Oxford Bibliographies articles Islam in Europe and Islam in North America).

  • Abou El Fadl, Khaled. “Islamic Law and Muslim Minorities: The Juristic Discourse on Muslim Minorities from the Second/Eighth to the Eleventh/Seventeenth Centuries.” Islamic Law and Society 1.2 (1994): 141–187.

    DOI: 10.1163/156851994X00011

    Erudite account of the diversity of opinions in the Islamic legal tradition regarding the status and religious obligations of Muslims living as minorities. Abou El Fadl shows that these discussions are much older and nuanced than often assumed in the literature.

  • Césari, Jocelyne. When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and the United States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403978561

    A sociological account of the ongoing transformations of Islam in Europe and North America. Discusses the place of Islamic Law in the West and the efforts to reform Sharia by old and new leadership figures alike.

  • Hellyer, H. A. Muslims of Europe: The “Other” Europeans. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

    Looks at Muslim attempts to redefine the role of Islamic law in Europe, placing them in relation to broader struggles to construct a European identity inclusive of its Muslim populations.

  • March, Andrew. Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195330960.001.0001

    An important study of the range of contemporary Islamic discourses on the minority condition. Provides a stimulating discussion of theoretical fiqh debates on residence outside the realm of Islam, loyalty to a non-Muslim polity, and relations with non-Muslims. Informed by liberal political theory.

  • Masud, Khalid. “Being Muslim in a non-Muslim Polity: Three Alternate Models.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 10 (1989): 118–128.

    DOI: 10.1080/02666958908716109

    A pioneering account of the various ways in which classical Islamic legal theory allowed Muslim minorities to live in non-Muslim countries. Distinguishes between the pre-hijrah Mecca, the post-hijrah Mecca, and the Abyssinia/Hudaybiyya models and discusses the implications of each for the contemporary situation.

  • Rohe, Mathias. Muslim Minorities and the Law in Europe: Chances and Challenges. New Delhi: Global Media, 2007.

    Provides an overview of the different dimensions of Islamic law in Europe, from international private law arrangements to the production of nonbinding fatwas. Written from a legal perspective with an emphasis on the German context.

  • Roy, Olivier. Vers un islam européen. Paris: Éditions Esprit, 1999.

    By a French political scientist who has shaped the academic debate on Islam in the West. It focuses on the sociological transformations of Islam in the European context. Unlike his translated works, this book includes a useful discussion of paradigms related to the application of Islamic law in minority contexts. Out of print.

  • van Koningsveld, P. S. “The Significance of Fatwas for Muslims in Europe: Some Suggestions for Future Research.” Nederlandsch theologisch tijdschrift 60.3 (2006): 208–221.

    A programmatic article that seeks to redirect research on European Islam toward the study of fatwas. Predicts that fiqh al-aqalliyyat will influence discussions on Islam in the West as well as developments in Muslim majority countries.

  • Waardenburg, Jacques. “Normative Islam in Europe.” In Paroles d’islam: Individus, sociétés et discours dans l’islam européen contemporain. Edited by Felice Dassetto, 49–68. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2000.

    Pioneering text alerting to the importance of studying normative (as opposed to practiced) Islam in Europe. Provides a typology of approaches to normative Islam among Muslims in Europe and how they relate to specific figures of religious authority.

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