Shiʿite Legal Theory Kumail Rajani (University of Exeter) and Robert Gleave (University of Exeter) Shi'ite Legal Theory

Shiʿite Legal Theory Kumail Rajani (University of Exeter) and Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)

It also addresses the challenges of producing accurate copies. Readers are invited to explore each chapter through subsequent blog posts by contributors.The Edinburgh University Press website provides further information and the book's table of contents.

We all have heard the term shariʿa a lot, and, by now, most will also know the difference between “shariʿa” and “fiqh” – the latter is the human endeavor to interpret the former (which is God’s law). God’s law is not necessarily readily available to all humans; Muslim jurists engage in intense scholarly investigation to derive laws from the available sources. Debates over the permissibility of engaging in juristic reasoning, the credibility of sources to serve as prooftexts, the interpretation of linguistic expressions used in the sources, the validity of non-textual sources, the probative force of various evidence, the identification of a legal duty in instances when textual and rational sources fall short of indicating one…These and many other theoretical discussions have long occupied the minds of Muslim legal scholars. The discipline that attempts to answer these questions and offers hermeneutical devices and tools for legal derivation is called uṣūl al-fiqh (uṣūl for short: “Islamic legal theory”). This field of Islamic legal theory is arguably one of the most advanced and intellectually challenging disciplines of the Islamic intellectual tradition.

In this series of blogs, we introduce Shiʿi versions of Islamic legal theory through the recently published volume Shiʿite Legal Theory: Sources and Commentaries (Gibb Memorial Trust/Edinburgh University Press, 2023). This book aims to fill a gap in our understanding of the variegated nature of inter- and intra-Shiʿi uṣūl discourses. Shiʿi uṣūl tradition can be compared to Sunni uṣūl traditions - both in volume and intellectual depth. The Twelver Uṣūl Bibliography project (Law, Authority, and Learning in Imami Shiʿite Islam, ERC advanced grant: 695245) has identified and listed 1894 titles (including monographs, commentaries, and treatises among other genres of uṣūl writings) from the earliest period up until 1911. [1] Despite this giant corpus of uṣūl writings, Shiʿi uṣūl has not received sustained attention in the broader Islamic legal tradition or in Islamic studies. We hope this volume will spark interest amongst blog readers in the scholarly discussion of this mammoth body of uṣūl literature.

Careful consideration was given to the selection of texts and themes for the 8 chapters of the volume and the subject of the upcoming 8 blog posts. These considerations can be summarised in three points:

  • This volume brings Zaydi, Ismaʿili, and Twelver Shiʿi uṣūl texts together in a single book. Their shared commitment to the Shiʿa Imams and the Family of the Prophet as the crucial operators of the law make Zaydi, Ismaʿili, and Twelver a “family” of legal theory traditions. A critical side-by-side reading of these Shiʿi uṣūl texts will help us identify distinctive themes peculiar to each Shiʿi tradition (creating intra-Shiʿi debate) and as a “family” (versus Sunni legal theory traditions).
  • The book showcases the robustness of Shiʿi legal theory tradition by examining complex uṣūl topics such as: Are non-Qur’anic prophetic utterances his personal juristic reasoning (ijtihād) or should they be taken as divine revelation?; Whether the utterances of the Prophets and Imams should be taken as universal or particular (ʿāmm/khāṣṣ) when they are asked a legal question and no further clarification (tark al-istifṣāl) is sought?; Does the prima facie sense of the Qurʾan hold probative force? Can solitary reports (al-akhbār al-āḥād) be used as legal sources, particularly those reported by non-Shiʿites?; Is the “door to knowledge closed” (insidād bāb al-ʿilm) during the occultation (ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam? Is qiyās (analogy) a valid juridical tool of interpretation?; Which and whose consensus (ijmāʿ) is considered a valid source of law?; Who are the rightful interpreters of the sharīʿa?. These technical discussions are explored in this volume – and they reveal the fascinating dynamics of the different elements of the Shīʿa family of legal theories.
  • Each chapter of this volume includes an edition and commentary-style translation of previously unpublished Shiʿi uṣūl texts and treatises. In each of these chapters, the contributors have critically engaged with a text by elucidating its obscure passages, elaborating on their coded content, and often criticizing the author’s arguments. But the contributors have also consulted various manuscripts, edited the text, shown its variants, and demonstrated how challenging it can sometimes be to produce a fair copy of a text for academic analysis.

In the following blogs, each chapter of this volume will be introduced by its respective contributor(s). The contributors to the volume are Amin Ehteshami (Berlin), Aun Hassan Ali (Boulder, Colorado), Dale Correa (Austin, Texas), Hadi Qazwini (Southern California, Los Angeles), Hassan Rezakhany (Berkeley), Jan Thiele (Madrid), Kumail Rajani (Exeter), Nebil Husayn (Miami), Raha Rafii (Exeter), Robert Gleave (Exeter), Sarah Islam (Princeton), and Yusuf Ünal (Emory).

For the Table of Content and other details see https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-shi-ite-legal-theory-hb.html

[1] See Harvard Islamic Law blog: https://islamiclaw.blog/2023/06/01/welcome-to-our-june-guest-bloggers-robert-gleave-and-kumail-rajani/