Contagion in Theology and Law: Ethical Considerations in the Writings of Two 14th Century Scholars of Nasrid Granada

In: Islamic Law and Society
Justin Stearns Justin Stearns, Dept. of Religion, Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont 05753

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The Black Death, which struck al-Andalus in the second half of the 8th/14th century, was an unprecedented natural disaster. In this essay I examine the legal and ethical responses of two Granadan scholars to the social and intellectual challenge posed by this event. Whereas previous scholarship has almost universally lauded the stridently critical stance of the wazir Ibn al-Khatīb as an exceptional example of rational empiricism, I argue that his stance is more productively understood when compared to that of his teacher Ibn Lubb. Both scholars articulated an ethical response to an insurmountable challenge from within a medical and legal framework. Their interpretive choices and conclusions were based not so much on one scholar's privileging of empirical evidence over legal dogma, or vice versa, as they were on both scholars' grounding their respective statements in differing understandings of the nature of the evidence at hand.

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