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’s inaugural introductory essay Methods and Meaning in Islamic Law: Introduction,” is authored by Intisar Rabb, 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. Launched in December 2020, the Roundtable will continue through January 2021, and culminate in a live discussion in March via Zoom. This week, we featured two essays. Here they are below in case you missed them:

The ninth contribution, entitled “Four Historical Strategies for Approaching Islamic Law,” is by Elizabeth Urban (West Chester University of Pennsylvania). Urban urges scholars of Islamic law and Islamic history to consider four strategies in their scholarship that collectively aim at achieving “interdisciplinarity and scholarly dialogue.” The strategies range from a capacious use of sources, a multi-genre approach to history and law, attending to the perspectives of the socially vulnerable—namely women and the unfree, and considering demographic change that may simultaneously prove to be a legal consequence to and cause of changes in early Islamic laws, from Islamic family law and beyond.

The tenth contribution to the Roundtable is “What is Islamic Law? How Should We Study It?” by Joseph Lowry (University of Pennsylvania). “When did pious speculation by Muslim individuals become Islamic law?,” asks Professor Joseph Lowry in his essay. He suggests that formal institutions applying legal norms historically may not have been necessary for the formation of Islamic law, especially if we understand that term to mean a collection of “juristic discourses.”  Although we should not assume that the Qur’ān and the prophetic sayings inevitably culminated in a legal tradition, we can certainly see these sources as contributing to a “distinctively Islamic legal hermeneutics.” Read more to see how, and why scholars should clarify their own working definitions of “Islamic law” in their own discourse and use of the early sources.

Please join us in thanking our contributing scholars, Elizabeth Urban and Joseph Lowry for their thought-provoking contributions. Next week we look forward to publishing new essay contributions to the Roundtable. Stay tuned!

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