An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law


Educational Reform at al-Azhar and Dār al-ʿUlūm


In: Islamic Law and Society
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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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    Asad 1986; see Asad 2003.

  • 7

    See Brenner 2000:20, 24-5, 38; 2007:219-20.

  • 8

    See e.g. Brenner 2000:307-8.

  • 12

    Heyworth-Dunne 1968:2; Aroian 1983:7.

  • 13

    Heyworth-Dunne 1968:36; Eccel 1984:126.

  • 14

    Zeghal 1999.

  • 19

    Makdisi 1981:99-102; Eickelman 1978; 1985.

  • 21

    See Abū Ghudda 1992:34.

  • 22

    See Abū Ghudda 1992:34.

  • 24

    Hallaq 2009:138; Messick 1993:18.

  • 25

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 3:1109; Messick 21.

  • 26

    Hodgson 1974, 2:443, Eickelman 1985:58; Messick 1993:26.

  • 28

    Messick 1993:33-4; Eickelman 1985:56.

  • 29

    Al-Ẓawāhirī 1904:148-9.

  • 30

    Heyworth-Dunne 1968:66.

  • 31

    Rosenthal 2007:44.

  • 32

    Heck 2002a; 2002b.

  • 33

    Baker and Hacker 2009.

  • 34

    Hart 1997:187.

  • 35

    Popper 2002.

  • 37

    Bourdieu 2002.

  • 44

    Ibn al-Salāḥ 2009:141-2; al-Nawawi n.d.:1 93-94. This passage is often cited elsewhere. See e.g. Ibn Taymiyya 2008:319.

  • 47

    Ibn al-Qayyim, 2004, 4:406-407. Also see al-Taftāzānī n.d.:1 31, al-Shāṭibī 2004:670

  • 48

    Haarmann 1972.

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    Heyworth-Dunne 1968:42. Also see Makdisi 1981:79.

  • 50

    Al-Ẓawāhirī 1904:151.

  • 54

    Riḍā 2007b:23. See more generally Riḍā 2007b:22-6.

  • 55

    Khafājī 1987, 1:117. Also see al-Dusūqī 2009:158-9.

  • 57

    Al-Shāṭibī 2004:789-790. Also see Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 3:1128.

  • 58

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 2:856.

  • 59

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 2:856.

  • 60

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 3:948; 3:1140-41; al-Dihlawī 1398h:21.

  • 61

    See e.g. al-Shāṭibī 2004:54-6.

  • 63

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 2:856.

  • 64

    Ibn Khaldūn 2010, 3:925.

  • 66

    Eickelman 1985:57-8.

  • 70

    Makdisi 1981:9.

  • 71

    Al-Ẓawāhirī 1904:126.

  • 72

    E.g. Mitchell 1991.

  • 73

    Brunner 2009:111.

  • 74

    Fischer 2003:41. Also see Crecelius 1972:204-205 and Hodgson 1974, vol.2:443.

  • 76

    Fischer 2003:36-7.

  • 77

    See e.g. Crecelius 1972:204-5 and Hodgson 1974, 2:442-3.

  • 78

    Here I rely on Zachary Lockman’s (2004) helpful description of events.

  • 79

    Lockman 2004:78-80. Also see Hourani 2007:120.

  • 80

    Lockman 2004:82. Also see Hourani 2007:120-3; Kedourie 1997:42-6.

  • 81

    Gesink 2010:86.

  • 83

    ʿAbduh 2006, 3:338-41.

  • 85

    Crecelius 1972:192-3; Brunner 2009:113-44.

  • 86

    Al-Ẓawāhirī 1904:52.

  • 87

    Al-Ẓawāhirī 1904:152.

  • 89

    Riḍā 2008:53-4.

  • 90

    ʿAbduh 2006, 3:197-8; Gesink 2010:155-6.

  • 91

    ʿAbduh 2006, vol.3:197-8.

  • 92

    See Saliba 2007.

  • 93

    Makdisi 1981:77-80. Although Makdisi’s arguments may need qualification (see Dallal 2010:18-26), they remain fundamentally correct. For more on the sciences as taught in eighteenth-century Egypt, see Heyworth-Dunne 1968:42.

  • 94

    Aroian 1983:16. Also see Gesink 2010:115. Although mathematics and geometry received some attention in traditional religious learning, their classification as “non-Azhar subjects” points to their marginal position.

  • 95

    See Aroian 1983:45-6.

  • 96

    Gesink 2010:155.

  • 97

    ʿAbduh 2006, 3:576.

  • 98

    Naṣr 2009:154-5.

  • 101

    Zeghal 2007:119.

  • 103

    Also see Brenner 2000:12.

  • 104

    Rosenthal 2007:44.

  • 105

    Ṭanṭāwī 2004:267.

  • 106

    ʿAfīfī 2005:27.

  • 107

    ʿAfīfī 2005:30.

  • 108

    Khafājī 1987, 1:117.

  • 109

    Gesink 2010:227.

  • 110

    Al-Dusūqī 2009:165.

  • 115

    Al-Kawtharī 1993:166.

  • 116

    See Schacht 1965, especially 70-5. For a critique of the Eurocentric notions of historical time implied in such a judgment, see Agrama 2010.

  • 119

    See e.g. Hallaq 1984:32.

  • 120

    See e.g. Hallaq 1984:10-11.

  • 121

    See e.g. Hallaq 1984:18-19.

  • 122

    See e.g. Hallaq 1984:19.

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