Roundtable on Islamic Legal History and Historiography: Week in Review

On December 10, 2020, 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 December 2020 and January 2021, culminating in a live discussion in March via Zoom. This week, we featured two essays. Here they are below in case you missed them:

The seventh contribution to the Roundtable is “Future Avenues in the Study of Islamic Law” by Najam Haider (Barnard College). His essay calls for “more cohesive and integrated scholarly engagement with the pre-modern Islamicate world.” To that end, the author urges scholars to creatively engage and treat legal texts as valuable sources for understanding the social and political predicates of Islamic societies. For example, tracing the creation and migration of legal texts across regions can yield valuable insights into multiple ideas and ideologies across the pre-modern Islamic world, as a part of a larger intertextual world where scholars study all actors in Islamic history as interacting with, complementing, and arguing against one another.

The eighth contribution, entitled “Writing Islamic Legal History” is by Rula J. Abisaab (McGill University). She begins her essay by noting that the turn to literary texts in Islamic legal history should not assume that those texts can be explained by self-referential means only. She calls for attention to context alongside text, and above all, relations of power to explicate textual meaning. An example from her own work on Safavid Iran demonstrates the point: that critical textual analysis ought to be supplemented by “read[ing] around and outside,” which includes examining biographical notes, chronicles, anecdotal evidence and other unconventional sources — even when (or, especially when) the sources leave gaps.

Please join us in thanking our editors, Mariam Sheibani and Intisar Rabb, and contributing scholars, Najam Haider and Rula J. Abisaab for their thought-provoking contributions. Next week we look forward to publishing new essay contributions to the Roundtable. Stay tuned!

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