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All Books and Software: Middle East and Oriental Studies (Classical to Modern): Oriental and Middle East Studies - General

The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics
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The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics

How Sunni Legal Theorists Imagined a Revealed Law

by David R. Vishanoff

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This book is the first historical analysis of those parts of Islamic legal theory that deal with the language of revelation, and a milestone in reconstructing the missing history of legal theory in the ninth and tenth centuries. It offers a fresh interpretation of al-Shafii’s seminal thought, and traces the development of four different responses to his hermeneutic, culminating in the works of Ibn Hazm, Abd al-Jabbar, al-Baqillani, and Abu Yala Ibn al-Farra. It reveals startling connections between rationalism and literalism, and documents how the remarkable diversity that characterized even traditionalist schools of law was eclipsed in the fifth/eleventh century by a pragmatic hermeneutic that gave jurists the interpretive power and flexibility they needed to claim revealed status for their legal doctrines. More than a detailed and richly documented history, this book opens new avenues for the comparative study of legal and hermeneutical theories, and offers new insights into unstated premises that shape and restrict Muslim legal discourse today. The book is of interest to all occupied with classical Islam, the development of Islamic law, and comparative hermeneutical research.

Product Details

Publisher: American Oriental Society
Publication date: 2011
Bibliographic info: 344 pages
Language(s): English


Cover: Cloth



Every now and again, a book appears that potentially changes the landscape of a field of study. David Vishanoff's new work on early Islamic legal theory is, in my opinion, one such book. ... But I found myself nodding in general agreement when I read the skilfully fashioned statement:

"Part of the genius of the law-orientated paradigm is that even as it maximizes opportunities for the reader?s involvement in the construction of meaning, it disguises that involvement by presenting the meaning constructed by the reader as the plain and obvious meaning of the text itself . . . this puts the reformers at a disadvantage, because they must perforce acknowledge their novel interpretive choices and methods, whereas the interpretive moves necessary for correlating revelation with the status quo are already taken for granted (p. 278)."

Nicely put and well observed. This assessment can be made of the whole work, and I am still processing the implications of Vishanoff?s excellent study for my understanding of the early development of legal thinking in Islam.

— Robert Gleave in International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45 (2013)

The book in general reflects penetrating thorough research and careful interpretation of a wide range of legal sources and secondary studies, and its major conclusions are set forth convincingly. The reaffirmation of the pivotal role of al-Shafi`i's al-Risala in the conception and elaboration of mainstream Sunni legal theory against recent views questioning this role is to be appreciated. Both achievement and problematic of al-Shafi`i's hermeneutics within his legal theory are preceptively analyzed.

— Wilferd Madelung in Ilahiyat Studies 2.2 (2011)

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