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A Turn in the Epistemology and Hermeneutics of Twentieth Century Usūl al-Fiqh

Law and theology in Islam, as for Christians in medieval Europe, have always had a symbiotic relationship. But whereas western Christians accorded a secondary holy status to the Emperor Justinian’s corpus juris civilis, Muslims could not grant final authority in legal matters to any other text but the sacred texts of the Quran and Sunna.

I argue here that an epistemological shift has taken place in twentieth century usūl al-fiqh: away from the classical/orthodox Ash’arī position in which the human mind simply discovers the divine law and extends it to new cases on the basis of consensus (ijmā’) and analogical reasoning (qiyās); and toward a position in which reason is empowered to uncover the ratiolegis behind the divine injunctions — a distinctly Mu’tazilī approach. This shift has been accompanied by a privileging of universal ethical principles (kulliyyāt), now identified as the aims of the Law (maqāsid al-sharī’a), over the specific injunctions of the texts (juz’iyyāt) — a hermeneutic strategy that has often favored public interest (maslaha) as the chief criterion for developing fresh legal rulings in the light of new sociopolitical conditions. The main theoreticians discussed here are Muhammad ‘Abduh, Muhammad Rashīd Ridā, ‘Abd al-Razzāq Sanhūrī, ‘Abd al-Wahhāb Khallāf, Muhammad Abū Zahra, and Muhammad Hashim Kamali.

Bibliographic Information

Title: A Turn in the Epistemology and Hermeneutics of Twentieth Century Usūl al-Fiqh

Author: David Johnston

Published in:  Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2004), pp. 233-282

 Language: English

Length: 50 pages

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