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School of Law

Critical Jurisprudence in Islamic Law and Society

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

1. A clear understanding of the history and developments of critical Islamic jurisprudence.
2. An advanced ability to critically interrogate the various phenomena pertinent to the historical and present-day Islamic law.
3. An awareness of intersecting legal issues relating to history, sociology, politics and culture of Islam and Muslim communities in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
4. An advanced comprehension of how critical thought operates within, or interacts with, key tenets of the Islamic legal tradition.
5. An appreciation of the various theoretical approaches that inform existing scholarly analysis of Islamic law.

Scope and syllabus

(This is an indicative list and may vary from year to year)

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the fundamentals of critical Islamic legal thought, from its beginnings in early Islamic societies to present-day debates and controversies. It is designed as an advanced course, targeting students who already possess some knowledge of Islamic law, although this is not a prerequisite. The syllabus, below, seeks to compliment other courses at SOAS that focus on Islamic law, by introducing or expanding the various strands of critique that are not prominently featured in those courses. Thus, the overall goal of this course is to provide a substantial contribution to an existing graduate platform for Islamic law studies at SOAS and foster its further development.

The course takes as its cornerstone the historical developments of critical jurisprudence in Muslim societies, spanning three continents and some 14 centuries. It is divided into four parts, which are preceded by a general introductory lecture. Part I focuses on critical debates pertinent to the origins and sources of Islamic law, its early theological directions and structural developments in the formative and classical periods of Islamic jurisprudence (as they are often dubbed). Part II centres on the significant jurisprudential concepts introduced in the social and legal milieux of the three Muslim gunpowder empires (Ottomans, Mughals and Safavids) and debates, specifically, the imperial contexts that had shaped them. Part III introduces various legal phenomena relevant to the encounters of European colonialism and European modernity with the Muslim world, including (forceful) hybridisation and codification of Islamic law as well as a rising stream of Islamic modernism and anti-colonial thought. It also offers an overview of the key post-colonial and post-modern strands in contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. Part IV discusses a selection of trans-historical and cross-regional topics in critical Islamic legal and social thought, as a living and vibrant, pluralist intellectual tradition.  

1.Introduction: Islamic Law and Critique

Part I: Critical Jurisprudence in Early Islamic Societies

2. Pre-Islamic Law and the ‘Origins Debate’ in Islamicate Scholarship
3. Reason, Tradition and Practical Justice: Early Tensions in Islamic Legal Theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) and Practice (furū‘ l-fiqh)
4. Imam Shāfi‘ī and the Tenets of Sunnī Jurisprudential Centralisation
5. Early Governance Debates: ibn Taymiyyah’s al-siyāsa al-shar‘iyya in a Critical Perspective  

Part II: Critical Jurisprudence in Muslim Gunpowder Empires

6. Introduction: Law and Empire in Ottoman, Mughal and Safavid Societies
7. Ottoman kanûn in a Critical Perspective
8. Safavid Legal Statecraft: Shī‘ism as the State Religion
9. The Rise and Fall of Mughal Legal Exceptionalism
10. Religious Pluralism in Post-Classical Islamic Law: From Dhimmī Rules to Dīn-i Ilāhī (and Back Again)

Part III: Critical Jurisprudence in Colonial and Post-Colonial Islamic Societies

11. Islamic Law and European Colonial Project (1): ‘Anglo-Mohammedan’ Law
12. Islamic Law and European Colonial Project (2): From Tanzimât Fermânı to Atatürk’s Reforms
13. The Law, Empire and Early Islamic Modernism: ‘Abduh, Riḍā’, Khallāf and Nursî  
14. Islamic Law and the Question of Modern Nation-State
15. Post-Colonial Approaches to Islamic Law: A Potpourri  

Part IV: Selected Themes in Critical Islamic Jurisprudence

16. From ijtihād to ikhtilāf: Strategies for Reform in Islamic Legal Thought
17. Peripheries and Centres of Islamic Law
18. Gender Variance in Islamic Law and Society  
19. Islamic Law and Moral Economies
20. Critical Studies of Islamic Law and Its Discontents

Method of assessment

Assessment weighting: 100% coursework (two 2,000 word essay each 15%, one 4,000 word essay 70%). Resubmission of coursework regulations apply.