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 http://waraqat.vishanoff.com, 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 http://waraqat.vishanoff.com.

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 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.

Article on al‑Shāfiʿī’s hermeneutics: الهرمنيوطيقا الفقهية عند الإمام الشافعي

This Arabic article on the legal hermeneutics of al‑Shāfiʿī was presented at a regional meeting of the Nahdlatul Ulama in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2013, and then published in a journal edited by my host Dr. Sahiron Syamsuddin (with me in the picture above):

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

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