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 contributions. Here they are below in case you missed them:

The fifteenth contribution, entitled “Crime during the Mamluk Period and the Study of Legal History” is by Carl Petry (Northwestern University). Drawing on his research on the written works by Egyptian and Syrian Mamlūk authors, Petry begins his essay by noting the increasing availability of a vast array of sources in the field, some of which have been digitized, which allows for enhanced quantitative analysis. He underscores the need to consider each source in its own right: while registers of legal proceedings are invaluable for making statistical generalizations, for example, more traditional historical texts offer a substantive foundation to interpret those findings. Noting that his research focuses primarily on the study of crime and transgressive behavior during the Mamlūk era, Petry writes that the insights from critical race theory and gender studies have been vital to his scholarship, especially to help expose the male lens from which the texts he studies were written.

The sixteenth contribution, entitled “Scholarship as Resistance: An Interview with Wael Hallaq” is an interview with Wael Hallaq (Columbia University). In this interview, Professor Hallaq calls on scholars to effect change by rethinking the basic epistemic structures of modern knowledge. He argues that through precise and sensitive research, the scholar of Islamic law is able to reconsider the basis of human experience and to develop new “technologies of embodiment.” He also argues that the very practice of scholarship constitutes one of the rich sources of self-education and ethical self formation. For him, the study of the Other (here: the pre-modern Islamic subject) allows an author to develop methods of “living in the world, not above it” by rejecting hegemonic structures and realizing an alternative system of knowledge. Hallaq insists that the study of Islam, whether in its legal or mystical dimensions, heuristically allows for a reformation of ontology through epistemology. Moreover, Hallaq argues, scholarship is not a mere job or a vocation, but an ethically self-conscious and deliberately structured way of life. He argues that the social role of the scholar of Islamic law, therefore, goes beyond looking to Islamic texts for inspiration, insight, or guidance. Rather, it is to lead a corrective epistemological revolution toward emancipation of the human being.

Please join us in thanking our contributing scholars, Carl Petry and Wael Hallaq for their thought-provoking contributions. Next week we look forward to publishing new essay contributions to the Roundtable. Stay tuned!

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