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.

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.

A Pedagogy of Sacrificial Listening

Scholarship and teaching are both forms of human relationship. My purpose for both is to enable the development of further relationships characterized by integrity and by an ongoing process of coming to understand. Both must therefore be governed by the same principles.

The study of religions consists in listening to unfamiliar voices with sacrificial attention, constructing conceptual models that allow one to relate what one has heard to familiar categories, and then subjecting those models and categories to deconstruction through self-criticism and further acts of listening.

Teaching religions consists primarily of modeling and fostering the process of coming to understand unfamiliar primary texts and living voices through the practice of sacrificial listening.

Students should leave a course not with ‘talking knowledge’ – the ability to talk about religion – but with ‘listening knowledge’: a basic mental map, and the moral commitment and analytical ability to use and redraw that map as they strive to understand new religious voices and develop new relationships beyond the classroom.

Since teaching not only enables the development of new relationships, but is itself one form of human relationship, sacrificial listening must be a hallmark of student-teacher interaction in and outside the classroom. Students’ contributions must be given the same quality of attention as the voices being studied, so that they too may spark revisions in my ways of thinking and teaching.

The development of this pedagogy is explained in my essay “Sacrificial Listening: Christians, Muslims, and the Secular University.”

Overview of Muslim beliefs in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics

This encyclopedia entry surveys the beliefs of Muslims, presenting them not as a set of agreed-upon doctrines but as an ongoing argument over seven main topics: God, creation, humanity, prophethood, ethics, salvation, and the Muslim community.

David R. Vishanoff. “Religious Beliefs.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, ed. Emad El‑Din Shahin, vol. 2, 321–337. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

I find it useful as an introductory reading for my class on Islamic Theology. Unfortunately, it was written “for hire” for OUP, and cannot be made available here. It is accessible in the printed encyclopedia and at this link in Oxford Islamic Studies Online.