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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09596410.2017.1289705. 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 http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/PEsTW46I5pridIR5AxQn/full

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.

Al‑hirminyūṭīqā al‑fiqhiyya ʿinda al‑Imām al‑Shāfiʿī

This Arabic article on the legal hermeneutics of al‑Shāfiʿī was presented at a meeting of the regional office of the Indonesian scholarly organization Nahdlatul Ulama (Pengurus Wilayah Nahdlatul Ulama Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on March 31, 2013, at the invitation of Sahiron Syamsuddin, and then published in his International Journal of Pesantren Studies:

“Al‑hirminyūṭīqā al‑fiqhiyya ʿinda al‑Imām al‑Shāfiʿī.” International Journal of Pesantren Studies 7 no. 2 (2015 [2016]): 263–281.

Many thanks to Pak Sahiron and the scholars of Nadhlatul Ulama for their warm hospitality and their kind generosity toward my ideas and poor Arabic.

Here is a pdf of the article (marked up to indicate a few corrections necessitated by formatting issues).

Here is the English abstract:

Hermeneutics is not a new discipline among Muslim thinkers; it goes back to al‑Shāfiʿī’s founding of the discipline of legal theory (uṣūl al‑fiqh). This article examines the role al‑Shāfiʿī played in the founding of Islamic legal hermeneutics, and then describes his hermeneutic as one of great flexibility for defining hermeneutical intertextual relationships, and great freedom for deriving legal rules from texts. Then it presents the goal of al‑Shāfiʿī’s hermeneutic as the establishment of a perfect correlation between his legal opinions and the Qurʾānic verses and Prophetic traditions that were widely accepted in his time. Then it indicates the most important consequence of al‑Shāfiʿī’s legal hermeneutic: the possibility of imagining a legal system that is at once divine and human, that is entirely based on the texts of divine revelation yet also evolves to suit the needs of human society across time and space.

Review of The Canonization of Islamic Law by Ahmed El Shamsy

My review of an important new book on how Islamic law came to be based on the Qur’an and Hadith.

David R. Vishanoff. Review of Ahmed El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 26 no. 2 (2015), 256-258.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record), with PDF for those whose institutions subscribe to the journal: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09596410.2014.979575

PDF of the pre-print Author’s Original (AO) manuscript

Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University

This auto-biographical essay recounts the development of several themes and directions in my work as a Christian scholar of Islam, including my pedagogy of sacrificial listening.

David R. Vishanoff. “Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University.” In Faithful Is Successful: Notes to the Driven Pilgrim, ed. Nathan Grills, David E. Lewis, and S. Joshua Swamidass, 213-243. Denver: Outskirts Press, 2014. (ISBN 978-1478730354)

A scanned copy is posted here as a pdf file, by permission of the editors, for personal non-commercial use only.