The Paradoxical Hermeneutic of Sunni Jurisprudence: Its Emergence and Triumph from al-Muzanī to Ibn Ḥazm

At the 2007 American Oriental Society meeting I presented the progress I had been making on Chapter 6 of The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics:

“The Paradoxical Hermeneutic of Sunni Jurisprudence: Its Emergence and Triumph from al‑Muzanī to Ibn Ḥazm.” American Oriental Society, San Antonio, March 16, 2007.

Here is a pdf of the paper, and here is the handout that accompanied the presentation.

Here is the abstract:

During the two and a half centuries following al‑Shāfiʿī’s attempt to correlate Islamic law with a canon of revealed texts, jurists and theologians developed competing hermeneutical theories to explain how such a correlation might be possible.  As each Sunni school of law embraced al‑Shāfiʿī’s legal project, and became institutionalized as a legal guild, its members formulated comprehensive systems of interpretive rules.  Some within each school were drawn to the theoretically consistent hermeneutical models developed by Ashʿarī and Muʿtazilī theologians, while others developed a more pragmatic but paradoxical “jurists’ hermeneutic” that pursued two seemingly opposite aims:  power to derive as much definite legal meaning as possible from revealed language, and flexibility to modify that meaning as needed to correlate it with a coherent legal system.  By the middle of the 5th/10th century, this jurists’ hermeneutic was so dominant that theologically-inclined legal theorists of all legal and theological affiliations felt it necessary to reconcile their theoretical principles with the interpretive rules of the jurists’ paradigm.  This paper reconstructs the history of this development within each of the Sunni schools of law, identifying key contributions of specific figures:  the Shāfiʿiyya al‑Muzanī, Ibn Surayj, al‑Ṣayrafī, Ibn Abī Hurayra, Ibn Fūrak, and Abū Isḥāq al‑Isfarāyīnī; the Ḥanafiyya ʿĪsā Ibn Abān, Ibn al‑Thaljī, al‑Māturīdī, al‑Karkhī, al‑Jaṣṣāṣ, al‑Dabbūsī, and Abū al‑Ḥusayn al‑Baṣrī; the Mālikiyya Ibn Khuwayzmindād, al‑Abharī, al‑Bāqillānī, and Ibn al‑Qaṣṣār; the Ḥanbaliyya Ghulām al‑Khallāl, Abū al‑Ḥasan al‑Tamīmī, and Abū Yaʿlā; as well as the Ẓāhirī Ibn Ḥazm.  The paper concludes that the triumph of the paradoxical jurists’ hermeneutic was due to the widespread adoption of al‑Shāfiʿī’s legal project and the marginalization of the discipline of theology.

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