Roundtable on Islamic Legal History and Historiography: Week in Review

This week the Islamic Law Blog launched its Roundtable on Islamic Legal History & Historiography: Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law, edited by Intisar Rabb (Editor-in-Chief) and Mariam Sheibani (Lead Blog Editor). The Roundtable will be ongoing throughout the months of December 2020 and January 2021, culminating in a live discussion in March via Zoom. This week, we featured three essays. Here they are below in case you missed them:

The Roundtable’s inaugural introductory essay Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law: Introduction,” is authored by Intisar Rabb (Harvard), who succinctly introduces the themes and purpose of the roundtable, highlighting the most significant developments in the field from the mid-19th century to the present.

The second contribution, Shīʿī Law/Islamic Law: Some Category Problems,” is by Robert Gleave (University of Exeter). In his essay, Gleave notes that the study of Islamic law in the Western Academy has come a long way since the 1980s, to the extent that it provided target practice for the late Shahab Ahmed, who sought to return Islamic law to just one of many ways of approaching Islam. Yet, for Gleave, there is much to be said and much still to be done in looking at history and other disciplines through Islamic law. To be sure, the plethora of sources, legal and non-legal, that scholars now see to be sources for the study of Islamic law is promising if disappointingly underutilized. Moreover, scholars today focus on Sunnī sources as default at the expense—with some exceptions—of robust engagement with Shīʿī and other minoritarian sources to tell a fuller legal history of the field. Gleave cautions that neither Ahmed’s “legal normativity” nor the field’s Sunnī dominance need lead the field; rather, the sources should guide the field.

The third contribution, entitled “Why did legal scholars write the books they wrote in pre-modern Islamic societies? The case of al-Andalus is by Maribel Fierro (Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Mediterranean, CSIC-Madrid). Her motivating question is “[w]hy books dealing with specific subjects were written at specific times and in specific contexts.” Relying on a dataset compiled by Historia de los Autores y Transmisores de al-Andalus (HATA), a project she directs that aims to map the intellectual production of al-Andalus, the author observes that the majority of scholarship produced by Andalusi scholars were fiqh and poetry texts. The former, she argues, is likely explained by the professional opportunities enabled by engaging in the study of fiqh at the time compared to other genres. What makes such research possible is the breadth of the dataset, in no small way thanks to the collegial sense of some of the scholars during the Andalusi era, exemplified by the case of Ibn al-Ṭallāʿ(d. 497/1104) whose Kitāb aqḍiyat rasūl Allāh lists thirty-four of the sources he relied on.

Please join us in thanking our editors, Mariam Sheibani and Intisar Rabb, and contributing scholars, Robert Gleave and Maribel Fierro, for their thought-provoking contributions. Next week we look forward to publishing three new essay contributions to the Roundtable. Stay tuned!

Leave a Reply