Framing the Jurist: The Legal Persona of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti
Hernandez, Rebecca Skreslet
Opwis, Felicitas M.M.
This research looks at attempts by the Egyptian polymath Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 1505) to frame his authority as a jurist in his legal writings. The research aims to access the multi-faceted legal persona that the author constructs through his use of the written word. I suggest that al-Suyuti seeks to assert his authority as a superior scholar at a time in which claims to practice independent legal reasoning (ijtihad) were often met with hostility by members of the scholarly community.Each chapter is intended to analyze in detail a different aspect of al-Suyuti's legal persona as well as a different rhetorical strategy that the author uses to establish, defend, and maintain his authority. The texts examined as case studies include: a legal opinion (fatwa) concerning scholarly stipends funded by `public' endowments, a fatwa condemning the study of logic, independent treatises and sections of the author's autobiography dealing with the concepts of ijtihad and tajdid (religious renewal), and a book on legal precepts (qawa`id).I assume that the author's choice of form and genre is deliberate and that his use of language speaks to his pragmatic goals. In order to claim the rank of mujtahid (jurist capable of independent reasoning) and mujaddid (renewer of religion), al-Suyuti must speak and act as such. To understand how al-Suyuti uses language to accomplish these goals, I incorporate into my analysis theories and methodological tools from the realm of sociolinguistics, including framing techniques, interdiscursivity, communities of practice, critical discourse analysis, and pragmatics. Sociolinguistic theories are a valuable means with which to understand not only what the author wishes to convey but also how he says it and why he chooses to say it in the way that he does.Finally, this research allows me to evaluate, to some degree, the relative effectiveness of al-Suyuti's efforts to frame his persona as a jurist and to negotiate this identity in the world through practice. I conclude that, while al-Suyuti's framing effort may have failed to convince most of his contemporaries, he is vindicated by the continuing legacy of his works.
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