SOAS University of London

School of Law

Islamic Legal Theory

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

This module presents, from a comparative legal perspective, an overview of Islamic law in its theoretical, historical and jurisprudential evolution. Islamic legal theory (Usul al-Fiqh) is considered from a comparative perspective with a critical analysis of its history, development and application in contemporary jurisdictions. An overview of the historical and jurisprudential themes includes the relationship between sacred texts and human reason in the development of the law, dissent and consensus in the articulation of the law, law and morality and normative pluralism. The overall purpose is for students to understand the sources, methods and principles of Islamic law and its evolution over time. The jurisprudential nature of the course makes it a unique contribution to the general law curriculum as students are challenged into developing necessary critical analytical skills. The module provides an opportunity for students to learn relevant skills in a field of law that requires critical and original thinking. This objective will be achieved through readings, in-class discussions and group exercises in tutorials.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a good understanding of the complexities of Islamic Legal Theory (usūl al-fiqh) and its implications for substantive Law (furū‘ al-fiqh);
  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the nature, sources, methods and principles of Islamic Law;
  • Appreciate critically the historical and evolutional perspectives of Islamic legal theory;
  • Reflect critically on the issues raised in contemporary debates about Islamic Legal theory and application of the sharī‘a in modern times;
  • Conduct independent legal research in the field of Islamic Legal Thory
  • Undertake written analysis and debate on key issues in Islamic Legal Theory


  • A weekly 2 hour lecture
  • A weekly 1 hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

1. Introduction: The Nature of Islamic Law
2. Revelation as Legislation: Law in the Qur’an
3. The Jurists and the Law: Early Days
4. Text and Reasoning: Classical Theories of the Law
5. Ijtihād, Fatwās and Qānūn: Post-Classical Law and Legal System
6. Pre-Modern Developments and Early Codification
7. Modern Legal Theories and Legislation
8. State, Sharī‘a and Society: Contemporary Issues
9. Islamic Criminal Law and Punishments
10. Courts and Procedure: Administration of Justice.

Method of assessment

  • 80% assessed by 3,000 word essay
  • 20% 1,000 word concept paper

Suggested reading

Core reading

  • Baderin, M.A., Islamic Law: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2021)
  • Coulson, N., A History of Islamic Law, (EUP, 1968)
  • Hallaq, W., A History of Islamic Legal Theories (CUP, 1997)
  • Kamali’s Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, 3rd Edition (ITS, 2005)

Additional reading

  • Baderin, M. A., (ed.) Islamic Legal Theory Vol. I (Ashgate, 2014).
  • Khadduri, M., al-Shāfi’ī’s Risāla: Treatise on the Foundation of Islamic Jurisprudence (ITS, 1991)
  • Weiss, B., The Search for God's Law: Islamic Jurisprudence in the Writings of Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī, (UUP, 2010).
  • Relevant Journal articles and Book Chapters assigned to specific topics.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules