Islamic law is just not law: ethical concerns in a paternity/filiation case fatwa and inquiry report

By Dr Mohamed Shahid Mathee, Lecturer in Religion and the Study of Islam, University of Johannesburg

Through the prism of fatawa Dr. Mohamed Mathee extracted Islamic ethics centred on compassion, concern, the well-being of children and parental responsibility within the genre of Islamic legal literature derived from a striking case history of a fatwa centred on a paternity dispute arising in 1944 set within the city of Timbuktu and the town of Tuwat. Via the medium of stories a legally complex case unfolded providing the basis for Dr Mathee’s public lecture.

Dr Mathee detailed how this fatwa transcended prescriptive legal edicts and exhibited a social character involved real people and embodied the lived reality of a Mufti’s concern for a child possibly born out of wedlock. The subject himself sought to determine who his biological father was. This had implications beyond identity concerns and a sense of belonging filtering into inheritance rights for himself and his mother alongside his long-term psychological health.  The subsequent question and answer session extended the discussion into the complexities of Muslim children in care in the UK, which provided part of a discursive conclusion to the presentation.