How not to reform the study of Islamic law: A response to Ayesha Chaudhry

By Ahmed El Shamsy (University of Chicago)

This essay is part of the Islamic Law Blog’s Roundtable on Islamic Legal History & Historiography, edited by Intisar Rabb (Editor-in-Chief) and Mariam Sheibani (Lead Blog Editor), and introduced with a list of further readings in the short post by Intisar Rabb: Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law: Introduction.”

In an online article titled “Smuggling scholarship—In re The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law,”[1] Anver Emon and Rumee Ahmed explain why they decided to include Ayesha Chaudhry’s polemical essay “Islamic Legal Studies: A Critical Historiography” in The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law,[2] which they jointly edited and to which I, too, contributed a coauthored chapter. As the word “smuggling” in the title suggests, Emon and Ahmed conceived of their move as a radical act that took place in the dead of night, so to speak. This is certainly accurate in the sense that the original table of contents on the basis of which I and other contributors agreed to participate in the project did not mention Chaudhry’s piece. In the editors’ view, the subterfuge was necessitated by the inherent subversiveness of the essay, which would inevitably trigger negative and “uncivil” responses from readers who would not “react well to confronting their complicity in [the] status quo enterprise [of] racial, gender, and class privilege.” My own reaction to the essay was indeed negative, yet I believe that my objections reflect more than wounded fragility. I am convinced that although Chaudhry addresses important issues of methodology, activism, and power in the field of Islamic studies, both her diagnoses and her prescriptions are deeply flawed and counterproductive. My goal in this short response is to push back against some of her core claims, lest they be taken by junior scholars in particular as demarcating the acceptable parameters of future work in the field—a reading that would, in my view, dramatically impoverish the discourse of Islamic studies in general and Islamic legal studies in particular.[3]

The central aim of Chaudhry’s essay is to critique what she considers the two dominant paradigms in Islamic legal studies today: White Supremacist Islamic Studies (WhiSIS) and Patriarchal Islamic Legal Studies (PILS).[4] At first glance, these constructs evoke the problem of unacknowledged bias, which has affected and continues to affect the academic study of Islam. All disciplines have genealogies that shape the questions they ask and the methods they deploy, and these genealogies are intertwined with ethnocultural, religious, and gendered prejudices, with the result that prejudice-informed approaches and framings persist even after the prejudices themselves have been renounced (at least in public discourse). An illustrative example of such bias is the different perspectives long used in Western academia to examine Greco-Roman antiquity (seen as the glorious fount of Western civilization), on the one hand, and the Islamic world (seen as a fundamentally alien and exotic “other”), on the other hand, though the gap has narrowed with the growing participation of Muslim scholars in these discourses. The White Supremacist Islamic Scholar and the Patriarchal Islamic Legal Scholar thus resonate as caricatures of malignancies that remain visible in contemporary Islamic studies, as Chaudhry’s personal experiences, outlined in her essay, attest.

For Chaudhry, however, WhiSIS and PILS are concrete realities, not figurative representations. She addresses scholars of Islam wholesale, contending that the majority hold, as a central principle of their scholarly work, one of two stark tenets: that whites enjoy pride of place in a hierarchy of human races (WhiSIS) or that men rank above women in the hierarchy of genders (PILS).[5] This is a serious claim to make about actual, living scholars, but Chaudhry declines to substantiate it by citing any scholars or scholarship displaying adherence to such tenets. Instead, she sketches the two paradigms in broad strokes with occasional anonymized examples. This strategy is deliberate, the volume’s editors explain: substantiating footnotes would let uncited readers “off the hook,” whereas the aim of the article is to invite every reader to see themselves in the accused’s seat. But eschewing the academic staple of evidence means that readers’ acceptance of a writer’s assertions is left to hinge on other factors, such as personal charisma, institutional prestige, deployment of currently fashionable vocabulary, and agreement with the audience’s preconceived notions and preferences.

The absence of evidence in Chaudhry’s piece means that we cannot assess her claims by evaluating them against reality as found in, for example, the published literature on Islamic studies. I contend, however, that her constructs are deeply flawed even if considered merely as general types: they rest on fallacies, stereotypes, and overgeneralizations. A particularly egregious example of the latter is her assertion that Islamic studies “began as part and parcel of the colonial enterprise,” which means that the field and its methods are inextricably linked to white supremacy. She argues that “French and German colonialists studied Muslims in the lands they colonized, along with the animals, and vegetation, and architecture. There is a reason that Islamic Studies doctoral programs require language competency in German and French.”[6] In fact, however, Germany, for example, acquired colonies very late (in the 1880s), and its colonies with Muslim populations lay in Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that was never a focus of the German Orientalist tradition. Rather, as Suzanne Marchand and Todd Kontje have shown, the origins of German Orientalism lay in biblical studies and that field’s interest in Semitic languages and their literatures.[7] The father of modern German Orientalism, Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer (1801–88), entered Oriental studies not to serve nonexistent German colonial administrations but because a chance encounter with an Arabic grammar text at a market stall motivated him to add the language to his existing repertoire of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin (he subsequently, also learned Persian and Turkish).[8] My own position at the University of Chicago—which has been a site of continuous scholarship on Islam since it opened its doors in 1893—owes its existence to the expansive interests of the institution’s founding biblical scholars. Chaudhry, however, must equip her WhiSIS/PILS monolith with an equally monolithic genealogy. As a result, she smears the entire field with the moral taint of colonialism, regardless of the actual backgrounds or positions of individual scholars, past or present.

In what follows, I will focus on two broad issues. These are Chaudhry’s dismissal of “dead texts” as opposed to “lived practice” and her insistence that all scholarship is a form of activism and cannot be separated from it.

For Chaudhry, a key characteristic of WhiSIS and PILS alike is their preoccupation with precolonial texts, which has the effect of “treating Islam like a dead religion.” Were this charge directed at the continuing tendency of Western scholars to ignore modern studies on Islam produced in Muslim-majority countries in languages such as Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, it would be entirely merited. But Chaudhry’s work is as guilty of this neglect as any. The real problem, as she sees it, is the tendency to seek authoritative answers to the question “What is Islam?” in written sources, especially ones authored by dead elite males, as opposed to the actual practice of living Muslims. To show the error of this strategy, she cites the example of a 2015 exchange between an unnamed journalist and an unnamed scholar (Graeme Wood and Bernard Haykel, respectively) in which the former asked the latter whether the terrorist group ISIS was “Islamic” and the latter responded in the affirmative. Chaudhry considers this reply preposterous, because the Islam of ISIS was derived from dead texts and was thus, by her definition, inauthentic.[9] Yet ISIS is a contemporary phenomenon featuring tens of thousands of dedicated Muslim followers who pursued a sociopolitical project explicitly construed as Islamic, expended considerable energy to justify themselves as Islamic, and sought to remake the areas they controlled in accordance with their vision of Islam. Of course, a responsible scholarly treatment of ISIS would point out that the movement has never been more than a minority phenomenon and that it owed its ascendancy to a specific constellation of geopolitical factors, including the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath and the brutal regime in Syria. But any expression of “lived Islam” is similarly the product of particular social and political contexts, and Muslims’ views of their religion—whether liberal or conservative, literal or otherwise—have in most cases been shaped by the reading and interpretation of “dead texts.”

Indeed, there is a long-standing Muslim reformist tradition of using premodern texts to critique contemporary practices. For example, a prophetic ḥadīth, found already in Mālik’s eighth-century Muwaṭṭaʾ, prohibits vigilante justice in cases of adultery and has thus lent text-based weight to the argument that honor killings cannot be justified on Islamic grounds.[10] In this case, then, a dead text provides a counterweight to an oppressive lived practice that its practitioners consider Islamic. As another example, the critique of the practice of triple (i.e., instant) husband-initiated divorce developed by the fourteenth-century scholar Ibn Taymiyya has been used in the modern period to challenge the practice as harmful to women.[11] Programmatically declaring “lived Islam” more authoritative than “dead texts” thus runs the danger of depriving Muslim reformists of indigenous resources while cementing contemporary practices and traditions as normative, whatever their ethical value or connection to Islamic scripture.

Furthermore, the perspectives of Muslims who are no longer alive can generally be accessed only through written sources, and the deciphering and interpretation of such sources inevitably requires the kind of “purely textual” scholarship that Chaudhry disparages. Since the authoring of these texts constituted an act of practicing Islam on the part of their authors, it is not clear why their study is necessarily “shallow, incomplete, and inaccurate,”[12] whereas asking two hundred contemporary Muslims in affluent Toronto and Kuala Lumpur about their views on domestic violence, as Chaudhry does,[13] provides a window onto authentic lived Islam. Is anything a Muslim does—changing diapers, writing poetry, planting potatoes—equally a practice of her or his religion? How, and by whom, are the boundaries to be defined? The seemingly intuitive distinction between lived Islam (which is authentic and authoritative) and dead texts (which are not) is artificial, and its mapping onto actual phenomena seems to depend on the extent to which Chaudhry endorses the particular views held.

The fallacy of Chaudhry’s approach is inadvertently illustrated by her attempt to demonstrate the absurdity of Haykel’s claim through an analogy: saying that ISIS is Islamic, she argues, would be tantamount to saying that slavery is American.[14] This is surely not a controversial statement on the descriptive level: slavery was a crucial element in the formation of the United States, sparking its one and only civil war, and it continues to be remembered as a benign phenomenon by a significant minority of the American population.[15] One could not possibly understand contemporary America without recognizing the role of slavery in its genesis. This descriptive observation is not incompatible with the prescriptive position that slavery is fundamentally un-American in the sense that it violates core American values such as liberty and equality. But for Chaudhry, there can be no distinction between descriptive and prescriptive claims. The very idea of such a distinction is part of the pernicious ideology of whiteness and patriarchy, which she proposes to combat through a virtuous counterpoint: Intersectional Islamic Studies (IIS).

The paradigm of IIS “argues that humans operate at the nexus of various converging and constantly shifting subjectivities that compound and complicate privilege and oppression.”[16] Its purpose is “to further the cause of social justice while at the same time ensuring that it doesn’t promote discourses of inequality and oppression.” Chaudhry defines social justice as “equality for all of humanity, without consideration of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, etc., as measures for ranking some over others” and roots this mandate in Qur’anic and prophetic norms of equality.[17] Notably absent from her definition of IIS is any mention of knowledge, discovery, or accuracy as goals of scholarly activity. This is because, for Chaudhry, all scholarship is “produced in a nexus of power, and serves various political interests”;[18] all scholarship is thus a form of activism, whether acknowledged or not. An IIS scholar’s activism is directed at justice, whereas proponents of WhiSIS and PILS seek to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy, respectively. There is no neutral ground.

This polemical conflation of scholarship and activism extends to methodology. Chaudhry rebuts the objection raised by a “male, South Asian, Muslim scholar” that justice does not amount to a methodology by asserting that the scholar’s acceptance of the methods of WhiSIS and PILS means that his own methodology consists of white supremacy and patriarchy.[19] The obvious corollary is that the standard toolkit of philological, linguistic, and interpretive techniques taught to students of Islamic studies is irredeemably evil. A scholar who endorses IIS, by contrast, needs no methods or methodological consistency beyond a virtuous commitment to justice. Chaudhry states emphatically that “there is no such thing as an objective scholar” and concludes from this that “there is no objective truth in scholarship” and that “morally neutral scholarship is a farce.”[20] It is, of course, true that all scholars approach their subjects from particular subjective vantage points, and that claims to objectivity have been used as myths, masks, shields, and swords (in the memorable formulation of Richard Proctor) to deflect critical questions and grant distorted interpretations a mantle of unimpeachability.[21] The history of Orientalism provides countless examples of such claims. But saying that claims to objectivity can be abused does not entail accepting that no claim can ever be objectively true, or that every scholarly question, hypothesis, or statement carries a moral agenda, or that the worth of such a question, hypothesis, or statement is determined solely by its moral stance. Equating these propositions reveals a simplistic understanding of objectivity that is far from the nuanced definitions of philosophers of science who continue to uphold objectivity as an intellectual goal worth pursuing.

Moira Howes, for example, has argued that objectivity of persons is best understood in terms of intellectual virtue, the telos of which is an enduring commitment to salient and accurate information about reality. On this view, an objective reasoner is one we can trust to manage her perspectives, beliefs, emotions, biases, and responses to evidence in an intellectually virtuous manner. We can be confident that she will exercise intellectual carefulness, openmindedness, fairmindedness, curiosity, perseverance, and other intellectual virtues in her reasoning.[22]

Ian Hacking, meanwhile, has proposed a negative definition of objectivity as the absence of intellectual vices such as bias and unwillingness to engage with criticism.[23] These definitions avoid construing objectivity as a state of absolute neutrality—a view from nowhere that captures the object of its inquiry the way a camera captures a well-lit object.[24] Instead, Howes and Hacking conceive of objectivity as an ongoing and always incomplete project of approximating reality and a self-conscious effort to recognize and counteract any interference in this process. The feminist philosopher Sandra Harding has built on this understanding to propose what she calls “strong objectivity,” which draws on the voices of marginalized groups to critique and improve scholarly inquiries to reveal invisible biases. But she stresses that her project “does not give up Enlightenment, positivist, and logical empiricist concerns that research should be fair to the empirical evidence, to its strongest critics, and to the highest ethical principles.”[25] These procedural definitions of objectivity actively resist appropriation by supremacist agendas.

Theorized in this way, objectivity is a moral commitment to pursuing a reality that is not reducible to our preconceived notions and agendas. Therefore, contra Chaudhry, descriptive and prescriptive judgments can be and sometimes have to be separated. To give a simple example from our field, when Meir J. Kister, professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote to the Egyptian scholar Maḥmūd Shākir in the early 1950s to correct a line of Arabic poetry in the latter’s edition of al-Jumaḥī’s Ṭabaqāt fuḥūl al-shuʿarā, Shākir acknowledged the “gentle letter” from Kister in a footnote in the book’s second edition and thanked Kister for his correction, while noting that the letter had originated in the Holy Land, which had recently been “defiled” by the establishment of Israel.[26] Shākir’s commitment to objective scholarship—to accurately giving voice to a poet who had been dead for more than a millennium—led him to engage with Kister’s scholarly contribution in spite of the former’s well-attested opposition to the state of Israel and its mass expulsion of Palestinians. Shākir and Kister stood on shared methodological ground and could therefore cooperate in scholarly inquiry even though they found themselves on opposing sides of a fundamental ethico-political divide.

For Chaudhry, the traditional text-focused methods of Islamic studies are not only morally complicit but also of little value, since “the Qur’anic text has no meaning independent of the communities interacting with it. There is no plain-sense or literal meaning of the text, because this meaning is always created by people reading and speaking for the text.”[27] But this stance is deeply problematic. For one thing, if the Qur’anic text has no plain-sense meaning and its message is determined purely by its reception by Muslim communities, on what basis is IIS Islamic while ISIS is not, given that both claim to implement Qur’anic and prophetic values? And for another, few scholars of the Qur’an, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, would deny that the Qur’anic text carries a plain-sense meaning, though they might disagree on its content and especially its implications. It is, of course, true that Muslims and Muslim societies do not simply enact Qur’anic rules like robots enact their programmed commands. A variety of factors mediate the integration of the Qur’an into the lived experience of Muslims, with widely divergent outcomes. But the Qur’anic text is not merely a blank slate onto which Muslims project their particular meanings. Like any text, it conveys an authorial intent, whether one conceives of it as divine or human in nature, and efforts to discern that intent through tools such as philology, lexicography, and literary analysis are thus meaningful and indeed necessary.

I agree with Chaudhry that the study of classical Islamic law generally overemphasizes elite prescriptive writings over, say, accounts or records of how the law was actually practiced. But the desirability of covering both aspects does not detract from the value of studying the purely theoretical writings. To suggest a parallel case, the existence of enlightening studies about the historical reception of Shakespeare’s plays and the ways in which later performances adapted them to their particular times and places does not mean that “purely textual” studies of Shakespeare’s works that do not consider such factors are worthless, nor that the latter are complicit in promoting what we now consider morally unacceptable practices in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.

Chaudhry’s derogatory attitude toward textual studies mirrors her low estimation of the value of training in the Arabic language and associated protocols, such as accurate transliteration. I fully endorse the fairly commonsensical position that knowledge of Arabic is not a sufficient qualification for speaking authoritatively about Islam,[28] but surely in many cases it is a necessary qualification given that the Islamic scripture is in Arabic, as is most of Islamic religious literature. As if to prove this point, Chaudhry quotes three short Arabic passages from the Qur’ān in an astonishingly incompetent manner. In the first quotation, for example, concerning the punishment for fornication (p. 7), she not only mangles grammar, syntax, and spelling in the quoted sentence but also dramatically alters its meaning, with the result that only one of the two fornicators is punished, not both of them, and the punishment consists of skins, not of lashes.[29] If the parameters of academic discourse on Islam were indeed to be set by Muslims, as Chaudhry proposes, what proportion of the world’s Muslims would accept scholarship on their religion produced by someone who is seemingly incapable of or unconcerned with quoting the Qur’ān correctly in her published work?

Chaudhry’s emphatic conviction that Islam “belongs” to Muslims goes hand in hand with the demand that Muslims take center stage not only in answering questions about their religion but also in determining which questions ought to be asked in the first place. In order to redress the historic injustice of the exclusion and marginalization of Muslim voices in the study of Islam, Chaudhry reverses the hierarchy, now placing Muslims, particularly nonwhite and female Muslims, in a position of privilege for defining and interpreting the subject. To use Sherman Jackson’s term, an alchemy of domination is being practiced here: the domination of one group is replaced by the domination of another, as required by the alchemical law of equivalent exchange.[30] But the valuation of scholarship according to the external characteristics of its makers or according to undifferentiated collective stereotypes is a feature of the worst forms of nineteenth-century Orientalism, and I consider it little more defensible intellectually when applied via a more progressive hierarchy. The replacement of criteria of rigorous scholarship, which judge positions by the strength of their supporting arguments, with criteria based on identity and adherence to particular activist agendas is inimical to any humanistic or scientific ethos.

I can empathize with Chaudhry’s autobiographical account of her anguish as a female Muslim graduate student confronting shockingly patriarchal views within her own religious tradition and feeling forced to engage with them on terms that she finds artificially detached and excessively focused on philological rather than ethical analysis. One solution might have been to pursue the subject in a different kind of program, one that would have welcomed a more personal and prescriptive approach. Expectations and norms vary widely among disciplines and departments, but contrary to her blanket assertion, Muslim scholars of Islam in Western academia are not required to check their faith at the door, nor are they deemed uniquely incapable of studying their own religion with proper scholarly rigor.[31] There are numerous scholars of Islam who engage unapologetically in prescriptive/constructive scholarship; prominent examples (in addition to Chaudhry herself) include Khaled Abou El Fadl, Kecia Ali, Sherman Jackson, Scott Kugle, Abdullahi an-Na’im, Seyyed Hussein Nasr, Abdolkarim Soroush, and Amina Wadud.

Chaudhry, however, has chosen to throw out the baby with the bathwater, discarding the traditional norms of scholarly inquiry, however flawed in their practical application, in favor of the shifting standards of identity politics. By turning the focus of scholarly critique from the quality of ideas to the identities and ideological commitments of their bearers, she has opened the door to purely ad hominem arguments, thus undermining the rules of engagement that make reasoned scholarly exchange possible. This danger is aptly illustrated by the Handbook editors’ implicit assumption that any negative reactions to Chaudhry’s essay constitute evidence of the truth of its arguments. If you agree with Chaudhry, you are practicing IIS; if you disagree, you are a proponent of patriarchy and/or white supremacy. Karl Popper identified such unfalsifiability as an integral feature of a totalitarian mindset.

As Rita Felski has argued, the kind of critique that unmasks truth claims as simply serving the demands of power cannot claim immunity from the application of the same kind of analysis to itself.[32] Chaudhry’s essay is an example of the exercise of considerable privilege: she is a tenured North American professor who is able to use her close (in one case marital) connections to the likewise tenured editors of a prestigious volume to execrate an entire field of scholarship while proudly flouting established academic norms. There is considerable moral capital in speaking out against white supremacy, patriarchy, and colonialism and in advocating for the centering of hitherto marginalized Muslim voices. But Chaudhry’s application of these labels to Islamic studies rests on ill-informed stereotypes and unsustainable assumptions, and the empowerment she offers is conditioned on adherence to the specific brand of Islam that she promotes: Muslims (and others) who do not agree with the ideological program of IIS are crudely caricatured and vehemently denounced as morally complicit in racial and gender-based oppression. This stark moral binary lays the ground for excluding and silencing scholars who refuse to join the IIS bandwagon and turning Islamic studies into just another battlefield of the culture wars.


[1] Available at

[2] The Handbook was published by Oxford University Press in 2018; Chaudhry’s contribution is found at pp. 5–44 in the print version, and my subsequent references to the essay relate to this version.

[3] My response is preceded by a more detailed rebuttal of Chaudhry’s essay by Sohaira Siddiqui: “Good Scholarship/Bad Scholarship: Consequences of the Heuristic of Intersectional Islamic Studies,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 88, no. 1 (2020): 142–74.

[4] Chaudhry’s definition of PILS focuses on the outward performance of faith through the display of, inter alia, “extensive knowledge of Muslim rituals, the correct prayers to utter throughout one’s daily life, the correct level of modesty and humility, [and] praying before and throughout a project with appeals for guidance from Allah” (“Islamic Legal Studies,” 17–18). Such priorities clearly do not characterize the academic study of Islam; rather, Chaudhry’s target here is contemporary Muslim ʿulamāʾ. My focus in this response is on the academe, so I primarily address WhiSIS.

[5] Ayesha S. Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies: A Critical Historiography,” in The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law, ed. Anver M. Emon and Rumee Ahmed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 16.

[6] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 9.

[7] Suzanne L. Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Todd Curtis Kontje, German Orientalisms (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004).

[8] August Müller, “Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer,” Beiträge zur Kunde der indogermanischen Sprachen 15 (1889): 321; translated by Henrietta Szold as “Memoir of Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer,” in Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution to July 1889 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1890), 509.

[9] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 12.

[10] See, e.g., Munjiyya al-Sawāʾiḥī, “Baḥth fī jarāʾim al-sharaf (naẓara islāmiyya),” Dīwān al-ʿArab website, December 1, 2005,

[11] Aḥmad Shākir, Niẓām al-ṭalāq fī al-islām (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Nahḍa, 1936).

[12] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 27.

[13] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 37–39.

[14] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 12.

[15] See, for example, Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen, “The Political Legacy of American Slavery,” Journal of Politics 78, no. 3 (2016): 621–41, and the voluminous controversy around the 1619 Project launched by the New York Times.

[16] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 25.

[17] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 26.

[18] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 27.

[19] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 29.

[20] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 27.

[21] Richard N. Proctor, Value-free Science? Purity and Power in Modern Knowledge (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 262.

[22] Moira Howes, “Objectivity, Intellectual Virtue, and Community,” in Objectivity in Science: New Perspectives from Science and Technology Studies, ed. Flavia Padovani, Alan W. Richardson, and Jonathan Y. Tsou (Cham: Springer, 2015), 173.

[23] Ian Hacking, “Let’s Not Talk about Objectivity,” in Padovani, Richardson, and Tsou, Objectivity in Science, 22.

[24] Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2007), 12–16.

[25] Sandra Harding, “Objectivity for Sciences from Below,” in Padovani, Richardson, and Tsou, Objectivity in Science, 49.

[26] Muḥammad b. Sallām al-Jumaḥī, Tabaqāt fuḥūl al-shuʿarāʾ, ed. Maḥmūd Shākir, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Jeddah: Dār al-Madanī, 1974), 2:395.

[27] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 27.

[28] I must note here the obvious inaccuracy of Chaudhry’s claim (“Islamic Legal Studies,” 12) that Arabic is the only language that scholars of Islamic studies are expected to know. Although language-learning requirements have been eroded over the decades, most Near Eastern Studies programs still expect competence in at least two Islamicate languages.

[29] Instead of the correct Al-zāniyatu wa-l-zānī fa-jlidū kulla wāḥidin minhumā miʾata jalda (Qur’an 24:2), Chaudhry (omitting diacritics in the print version) has Al-zaniyatu wa-l-zani fa-l-jliduu ihdahuma [!] mi’ata jilda.

[30] Sherman Jackson, “The Alchemy of Domination, 2.0? A Response to Professor Kecia Ali,” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 35, no. 4 (2018): 87–117.

[31] Chaudhry, “Islamic Legal Studies,” 11–12. For a taste of the long-standing debates over insider vs. outsider perspectives and the relationship between theology and scholarship among scholars of Judaism and Christianity, see, e.g., N. Ross Reat, “Insiders and Outsiders in the Study of Religious Traditions,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 51, no. 3 (1983): 459–76, and responses by Edwin Gerow, Charles E. Vernoff, Langdon Gilkey, and Edmund F. Perry in the same issue; Aaron W. Hughes, The Study of Judaism: Authenticity, Identity, Scholarship (Albany: SUNY Press, 2013), chap. 1; Dean Mathews, “The Function of the Divinity School,” Journal of Religion 13, no. 3 (1933): 253–68.

[32] Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

(Suggested Bluebook citation: Ahmed El Shamsy, How not to reform the study of Islamic law: A response to Ayesha Chaudhry, Islamic Law Blog (Dec. 14, 2020),

(Suggested Chicago citation: Ahmed El Shamsy, “How not to reform the study of Islamic law: A response to Ayesha Chaudhry,” Islamic Law Blog, December 14, 2020,

Leave a Reply