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Why did the famous North Indian modernist and founder of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh, Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (d. 1315/1898), lash out against emulation (taqlīd) in Islamic law (fiqh)? The usual explanation is that he wanted to shift religious authority away from the religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ) toward ordinary Muslims. Countering this claim, I argue that his goal and that of his followers and associates at Aligarh was not primarily to ‘democratize’ Islamic knowledge by doing away with the traditional edifice of Islamic law in general and the four established Sunni legal schools in particular. Rather, Sayyid Aḥmad Khān and his associates attacked taqlīd because, in their view, it failed to yield reliable, certain knowledge (yaqīn). Drawing on Urdu writings, I demonstrate that these modernist thinkers did not engage with the inner logic of Islamic law but rather measured it according to higher, theological, and philosophical standards. In their quest for certainty, they were inspired both by a scientific worldview as well as colonial conceptions of law.

In: Islamic Law and Society

This article is an attempt to explore how ǧihādī authors make use of the Sunni tradition to bolster their case. Islamicists have rarely embarked on such a discussion, given the tendency to a priori chastise extremist authors for their untenable misrepresentation of Islam. Similarly, ǧihādī arguments are frequently tossed aside as an already familiar rehashing of an insignificant, isolated stream of thought that stretches directly from Ibn Taimīya via Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb to Saiyid Quṭb. In revisiting this claim, I employ a close reading of the crucial ǧihādī manual al-ʿUmda fī iʿdād al-ʿudda li-l-ǧihād fī sabīl Allāh (The Essential Guide of Preparation for ǧihād on the Path of God), written in the mid-1980s in the context of Afghanistan by an influential ideologue who is widely known as Dr. Faḍl. After presenting and evaluating a selection of the religious sources and authorities on which the author draws, the article enters into a discussion of his political thought. I argue that Dr. Faḍl makes a convincing case for a political project in the camps that is deeply embedded within the Sunni tradition. Reading Ibn Taimīya faithfully, Dr. Fadl does not turn him in into a proponent of violence against the ruler. Rather, the author sticks to the profound quietism the Damascene scholar is known for, thereby questioning supposedly established, clear-cut paths of reception.

In: Die Welt des Islams