SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Islamic Legal Texts in Arabic

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module sets out to study and analyse the classical literature of the Sunnite legal tradition. The module will chart the formulation of Sunni juristic abstraction in relation to substance law (al-furu‘), considering the contributions of Hanifite, Malikite, Shafite, Hanbalite and Zahirite jurists. It will also cover the intricate enterprise regarding the endeavour to articulate a theory of law (usul al-fiqh) based on the conceptual resolution of its textual sources and other epistemological preliminaries. Within this comprehensive framework, students will compare and contrast texts from the rich reservoir of legal literature preserved in the earliest legal manuals. Moreover, by examining the texts of the formative years, students will be able to gauge the significance of works which left an indelible print on the development of the juristic tradition. Having taken into context the immense significance of representative texts of this early period, students will have the opportunity to explore the compendiums of jurisprudence as collated by later proponents of the developed traditions through the ensuing centuries. In addition to these compendiums there will be a study of the slandered compilations which catalogued the differences amongst the jurists under the rubric ikhtilaf alfuqaha; and, an examination of related literature engendered by legal abstraction such as the writings which circumscribed edicts (fatawa); legal expositions of the text of the Qur’an; and the voluminous biographical compilations (tabaqat) on jurists and their significance.

Having examined the rich corpus of furu‘ literature, the module will consider the earliest attempts to formulate a theory of law (usul al-fiqh) which ostensibly begins with al-Shafi’i’s Risala and culminates in intricate treatises which fuse the principles of law within a theological framework. The course therefore aims to provide students with a grasp of the development and significance of the legal tradition pre-eminently through the examination of primary source material.


Given that this is essentially a text-based module, it is expected that students should be able to read and comprehend classical Arabic material.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module students will have developed a distinct understanding of the nature and evolution of early Islamic legal texts. In addition, s/he will also have obtained not only a firm grasp of the structural features of the sources in this field and an understanding of their theoretical and background frameworks. Furthermore, the students will have the chance to trace aspects of the Islamic legal and judicial system in the early Islamic sources, including the Qur'an and Sunnah as well as early Islamic literatures in this field. Also, this module will provide students with an understanding of some aspects of the relationship between the theory and practice of Islamic law.


Total of 20 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week, consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Method of assessment

• One 3000 word essay submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (50%)
• One 3000 word essay submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (50%)

Suggested reading

Primary sources:
  • Al-Mawardi, Abu al-Hasan, The Ordinances of Government, Garnet Publishing (2000),
  • Al-Qarafi, Al-Ahkam fi tamyyiz al-Aftawa 'an al-Ahkam, Halab 1967.
  • Al-Qurtubi, Muhammad, Aqdiyat al-Rasul, Dar al-Wa'i, Halab, 1396H.
  • Ibn Abi al-Dam, Adab al-Qada, Bayrut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyah, 1987
  • Ibn Furhun, Tabsirat al-Hukam, Dar al-kutub al 'lmiyyah, Beirut, 1995.
Secondary sources:
  • Abdel Haleem, Muhammed, Sharef, Adel Omar, Daniels, Kate, (ed.), Criminal justice in Islam, judicial procedure in the
  • Shari`a / edited by, London : I.B. Tauris, 2003.
  • Al-Zuhayli, Muhammad, al-Tanzim al-Qada'I fi al-Mamlakah, Dar al-Fikr, Damascus, 1980.
  • Azami, M. M., On Schacht's Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, (Islamic Texts Society, 1996.
  • Calder, N., Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Coulson, N.J., A History of Islamic Law, Edinburgh, 1978.
  • Burton, J., An Introduction to the Hadith, Edinburgh, 1994.
  • Calder, N., Studies in early Muslim Jurisprudence, Oxford 1993.
  • Goitein, S.D., 'The Birth-Hour of Muslim Law', The Muslim World, 1960, pp.23-29.
  • Goldziher, Ignaz, Introduction to Theology and Law (Princeton University Press, 1981.
  • Hallaq, Wael, Law and legal theory in classical and medieval Islam, Aldershot: Variorum, 1994.
  • Hallaq, Wael, The origins and evolution of Islamic law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Liebesny, Herbert J., The Law of the Near & Middle East: Readings, Cases & Materials (Albany, 1975), Ch. 1
  • Muslehuddin, judicial system of Islam: its origins & Development, Islamic Book Service, Idara Islamiyat-e-Diniyat, or Kitab Bhavan (India)
  • Azad, G., Judicial System of Islam, Kitab Bhavan, 1994.
  • Schacht, Joseph, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford University Press, 1964)
  • Schacht, Joseph, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press, 1950)
  • Vogel, Frank E. Islamic Law and Legal System: Studies of Saudi Arabia (Brill Academic Publishers 2000).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules