Maṣlaḥa and the Purpose of the Law

Islamic Discourse on Legal Change from the 4th/10th to 8th/14th Century


Author: Felicitas Opwis
Focusing on writings of legal theory by leading jurisprudents from al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 370/980) to al-Shāṭibī (d. 790/1388), this study traces the Islamic discourse on legal change. It looks at the concept of maṣlaḥa (people’s well-being) as a method of extending and adapting God’s law, showing how it evolves from an obscure legal principle to being interpreted as the all-encompassing purpose of God’s law. Discussions on maṣlaḥa’s epistemology, its role in the law-finding process, the limits of human investigation into divinecommands, and the delineation of the sphere of religious law in Muslim society highlight the interplay between law, theology, logic, and politics that make maṣlaḥa a viable vehicle of legal change up to the present.

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Felicitas Opwis, Ph.D. (2001) in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Yale University, is Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. Her publications address the development of Islamic legal theory in light of intellectual currents and historical environment.
“… cinq chapitres d’une précision admirable…”

“…this book is terrific scholarship on a topic of much wider importance than it may initially appear.”
Paul R. Powers in Journal of the American Oriental Society 132.3 (2012), 332-335.

Those interested in Islamic intellectual history, Islamic law, legal theory, legal change, and the interplay of law with theology and politics.