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In 700/1301 the Cairene scholar Najm al-Dīn Ibn al-Rifʿa wrote a short juridical treatise entitled Kitāb al-nafāʾis fī adillat hadm al-kanāʾis in which he argued for the destruction of all churches and synagogues in Cairo. Some chroniclers report that this text was used to legitimise popular attacks on and the destruction of churches, but shortly thereafter, Ibn al-Rifʿa’s opinion was declared invalid by a council of prominent jurists. In addition to its juridical arguments for church destruction, several statements found in the treatise suggest that it was meant to function as a challenge to the author’s peers. I argue that al-Nafāʾis reflects ideas about the normative application of Shāfiʿī fiqh as much as it does about the destruction of churches, and that it can serve as a lens through which we can reconstruct a complex picture of the performance and negotiation of legal authority in the Mamluk period.


Islamic Law and Society