Wahhābī Legal Theory as Reflected in Modern Official Saudi Fatwās: Ijtihād, Taqlīd, Sources, and Methodology

In: Islamic Law and Society

Abstract

The purpose of this essay is to open a window into Wahhābī legal theory as reflected in modern-day official Saudi fatwās. Discussion includes ijtihād, taqlīd, madhhab affiliation, sources and methodology. Emphasis is placed on continuity and change in light of the country's official school of law, the Hanbalī madhhab. I show that, in principle, modern-day Wahhābīs remain faithful to the tenets of Hanbalism by privileging adherence to the text and to transmitted tradition (naql) over reason ('aql). It is evident, however, that Wahhābīs now go beyond Hanbalism, drawing their legal inspiration not only from their Hanbalī intellectual forebears, but also from a wide array of non-Hanbalī traditions and scholars. Moreover, Wahhābī legal theory today breaks from classical Hanbalī legal epistemology as presented by Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) and his disciples. This is manifested especially in: (1) limiting the practice of ijtihād to qualified scholars; (2) endorsing taqlīd for those unqualified to investigate the sacred texts; and (3) identifying public interest (maslaha) in accordance with the five objectives (maqāsid) of the Sharī'a.

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