An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law

Educational Reform at al-Azhar and Dār al-ʿUlūm

In: Islamic Law and Society
Aria Nakissa University of Winnipeg

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In this article, I combine textual research with ethnographic data collected at al-Azhar and Dār al-ʿUlūm to investigate how the modernization of traditional religious learning has transformed the character of Islamic legal doctrine. I argue that changes in educational techniques have produced a shift in “episteme”. Whereas traditional religious learning was dominated by language-based conceptions of knowledge, modern reforms have reoriented education towards new conceptions modeled on the natural sciences. This transformation has fundamentally altered patterns of legal reasoning, particularly with respect to ijtihād and taqlīd. I use these observations to urge a rethinking of the perspectives on ijtihād and taqlīd that currently structure Western research on Islamic legal history. 

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