Levity Makes the Law: Islamic Legal Riddles

In: Islamic Law and Society
Matthew L. Keegan Barnard College of Columbia University

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This article traces the emergence of compilations of a particular kind of legal riddle in the 8th/14th century, with special reference to the compilation of Ibn Farḥūn (d. 799/1397). Ibn Farḥūn’s riddles could be solved only by someone with detailed knowledge of Islamic positive law (furūʿ), and he argues that they are both an appropriate form of restful entertainment and a kind of competitive pedagogy. At the same time, Ibn Farḥūn derived novel legal opinions on the basis of his riddles, which demonstrates that jurists used hypothetical, imaginative situations to derive new rulings. The article also traces the origins of furūʿ-based legal riddles in the more diffuse tradition of Islamic riddling and in the adab tradition of riddling.

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