All posts by David Vishanoff

Free online textbook on Islamic legal theory offers a critical reading of al-Juwaynī’s Waraqāt

After years of ruminating on Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al‑fiqh) I have published online an introductory textbook with several unusual features:

  • It is free.
  • Readers can add their own comments to specific paragraphs, arguing with me, al‑Juwaynī, and one another.
  • Like many medieval textbooks, it takes the form of a commentary on a short handbook, Imām al‑Ḥaramayn al‑Juwaynī’s famous Kitāb al‑Waraqāt fī uṣūl al‑fiqh.
  • Its approach is more critical, however. It does not just repeat classical explanations and examples, but asks contemporary questions about epistemology, ideology, and ethics.
  • Consequently, it may hold some interest for specialists as well as students.
  • It is based on a new English translation of the Waraqāt, which is itself based on something surprisingly novel: a critical edition of this oft-republished text.
  • Comments posted by readers will help shape a future print edition.

The book is online at, and may be cited as:

David R. Vishanoff. A Critical Introduction to Islamic Legal Theory: A Critical Edition, English Translation, and New Commentary on Imām al‑Ḥaramayn al‑Juwaynī’s Leaflet on the Sources of Law (Kitāb al‑Waraqāt fī uṣūl al‑fiqh). Published online March 3, 2017, at

Please share the link with students and even specialists who might find it useful.

A Reader’s Guide to al-Shāfiʿī’s Epistle on Legal Theory (al-Risāla)

This Reader’s Guide is intended as a companion for those engaged in the delightful but sometimes puzzling task of reading al-Shāfiʿī’s famous Risāla, a work that sparked the discipline of Islamic legal theory. It includes a discussion of the structure of the work and a detailed twenty-four-page analytical outline that spells out step by step the flow of what I take to be al-Shāfiʿī’s argument. I hope it proves a useful tool for students and a compelling interpretive proposal for scholars already familiar with the work.

David R. Vishanoff. “A Reader’s Guide to al-Shāfiʿī’s Epistle on Legal Theory (al-Risāla).” Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 28 no. 3 (2017): 245-269.

The Version of Record (VoR) is published at Please cite only this final version. For scholars whose institutions do not provide access to the journal, a limited number of free downloads are available at

A longer version, the Author’s Original (AO), is available here as a pdf for personal schol­ar­ly and educational use. It does not reflect the corrections and additions to the introductory essay that were suggested by reviewers, and therefore should not be cited in scholarship, but it has two advantages for personal study and teaching: it includes a brief as well as a detailed outline of the Risāla, and the long outline retains numerous comments about the text, including suggested amendments to Joseph Lowry’s translation of the Risāla, that had to be cut from the published version.

Review of Amr Osman, The Zahiri Madhhab

Here is my review of a new book on the Zahiri school of law, commonly called “literalist” but better described as “textualist” according to Amr Osman. Unfortunately, I found that the book suffers from numerous problems, which are documented in the review.

David R. Vishanoff. Review of Amr Osman, The Ẓāhirī Madhhab (3rd/9th–10th/16th Century): A Textualist Theory of Islamic Law (Leiden: Brill, 2014). Der Islam 93 no. 2 (2016): 603–609.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record): DOI 10.1515/islam-2016-0047

Given the negative nature of the review, I do not wish to distribute it widely, and so will not post the full text here. It is important only for those scholars who are considering making serious use of Osman’s book.

Images of David in several Muslim rewritings of the Psalms

A very rich conference on King David was held in the elegant setting of the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw from October 26 to 28, 2016. Many thanks and congratulations to Marzena Zawanowska for organizing such a splendidly comparative and interdisciplinary gathering! My presentation updated my earlier mapping of the manuscript families of the Islamic Psalms (see An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David) and explored how the figure of David was reshaped by the editors of the various recensions:

“Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms.” Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King: The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, University of Warsaw, Poland, October 28, 2016.

Here is a pdf of the paper, as delivered, and here is a pdf of the slides presented, which include the quotations discussed in the paper as well as several visualizations of the relationships between the various recensions of the psalms (produced from my database of notes using Gephi graph visualization software and the amazing RAW visualization tool by Density Design). The paper was written for oral presentation, without documentation; I plan to expand and document it for the volume of essays that is expected to result from the conference.

The anthropological turn in Islamic legal interpretation

On July 23-24, 2016, the Zentrum für Islamische Theologie at the University of Tübingen did a superb job of organizing and hosting a conference on “Islamic Theology – Past, Present and Future: Global Challenges and Prospective Synergies in the Academic Study of Islam.” My presentation dealt once again with the Indonesian thinker Aksin Wijaya, arguing that his explicitly anthropocentric epistemology reflects a broader shift in Islamic thought that opens up new conversations between historical and confessional scholarship on Islam:

“The Anthropological Turn in Islamic Legal Interpretation.” Islamic Theology – Past, Present and Future: Global Challenges and Prospective Synergies in the Academic Study of Islam, University of Tübingen, July 24, 2016.

Here is a pdf of the paper, as delivered. It was written for oral presentation, without documentation. I plan to use it as the framework for a published article incorporating aspects of several papers I have given recently on Qur’anic hermeneutics in contemporary Indonesia.