Reform and Resistance: Fatwa Institutions in Kenya between Traditional Trends and Modern Needs
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Between mid nineteenth and twentieth centuries the East African coast was under the rule of the Sultans of Zanzibar. The Sultans appointed 'ulama to take charge of Muslim affairs that included judicial and other religious matters. The 'ulama were under the patronage of the Chief Qadi who enjoyed unchallenged recognition and authority in religious matters throughout the Sultanate. Religious opinions of the Chief Qadhi, who took the role of the Mufti, were taken at their face value and followed without fail. However, after the independence of Kenya in 1963 and Zanzibar revolution in 1964, role of the Chief Qadhi in the region diminished gradually. Hence, centrality of fatwa making process was disintegrated. The Chief Qadhi did not enjoy the privileges offered by the State and his status in the society gradually diminished. Ideological persuasion of 'ulama, including the Chief Qadhi, influenced their fatwas and with time ideological affiliation was institutionalized resulting in two antagonistic groups: traditionalists represented by Saada’Alawiyya / ahl al tariqa and modernists represented by the Salafi/ahl sunna. In this paper, I will argue that although fatwa could be seen as an instrument to portray unity of Muslims in the region, it reflects sharp divergence of opinions among 'ulama, hence, causing division among Muslims. The paper will trace the history of fatwa in Kenya and highlight on the genesis of fatwa institutions. It will further explore contentious issues that have caused divergence of opinions among fatwa institutions in Kenya.