The Hermeneutics of Islamic Legal Authority

February 10-11, 2022

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This conference will be held virtually. RSVP is required. Please RSVP here.

This conference brings scholars together to explore how “authority” is constructed in Islamic law.   As in any tradition, the elaboration of authority consists in a distinctive hermeneutic activity which negotiates between received parameters and newly arising contexts and demands.  This pursuit straddles positive law, jurisprudential theory, ethics, epistemology, and historiography within a common interpretive domain.  By studying the hermeneutics of Islamic legal authority, we not only ask how norms are received and developed, but also cast into sharp relief the interpretive agency at play in their creation.

Some guiding questions for our inquiries include: What are the resources utilized by Muslim jurists to produce authoritative opinions? What stages of reception do texts, ideas, and figures undergo to become authoritative?  What is the interplay between ethics, social mores, and the construction of law?  How are post-prophetic authority figures and institutions invoked as a source of law? How is an authoritative past mediated temporally into the present?  

Intended as a forum for the exposition of current research, this two-day conference will include invited academics recognized for their contributions to the study of Islamic law, Georgetown faculty of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and Georgetown PhD students on the four following panels: Sources of Law; Interpretive Norms; Temporality and Legitimacy; and Ethical Theory.

Day 1: Thursday, February 10, 2022, 3:00 PM – 5:30 PM EST

Opening Address, 3:00 PM – 3:05 PM EST

“The Hermeneutics of Aristocracy”
Jonathan Brown, Georgetown University

“The Female-Slave’s ʿAwrah (Intimate Body Parts) in Islamic Law”
Hatice Öztürk, Georgetown University

“Ḥadith as Source of Law? Damascene Traditionalism in the 13th & 14th Centuries”
Mohammad Gharaibeh, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

“Defining the Ūlū ’l-Amr: Contestations of Religious and Political Authority”
Asma Afsaruddin, Indiana University


Day 2: Friday, February 11, 2022, 10:00 AM – 5:15 PM EST

“Egypt’s Legal Debate over Verbal Divorce: A Struggle over Legislative Authority between Religious and Political Elites”
Umar Shareef, Georgetown University

“The Hermeneutics of Analogical Reasoning (Qiyās): The Case of Zinā and Liwāṭ
Sara Omar, Georgetown University

“Lawmaking in Islam Revisited”
Ahmad Atif Ahmad, University of California – Santa Barbara


Break: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM EST

Ikhtilāf and Ṭuruq: Authority, Transmission and Preservation in the Mālikī School”
-Mohamed Ali, Georgetown University

“Bearing Witness to Paradigm Shifts: Ḥanbalī Transformations of the 11th Century”
-Rodrigo Adem, Georgetown University

“Maṣlaḥa and the Ethical Tradition in 18th Century India”
Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Princeton University


Break, 3:00 PM -3:15 PM EST

“From Moral to Legal Value: The Five-Fold Scale of Legal Norms between Theology and Law”
Felicitas Opwis, Georgetown University

“Does God Act Purposefully? Revisiting the Grounds for Qiyās and Maṣlaḥa in Shafi’ī Legal Theory
Muaz Inaam, Georgetown University

“Generality and Exception in Islamic Legal Theory: Intent, Language, and the Jurist’s Role”
-Omar Farahat, McGill University