- The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law
Having already established himself as one of the pre-eminent scholars of Islamic law with such books as A History of Islamic Legal Theories and Authority, Continuity and Change in Islamic Law, Wael B. Hallaq now provides a substantive introduction to the origins and evolution of Islamic [End Page 343] law. The reader will benefit from both the historical scope of this book and its depth of analytic detail. Hallaq begins with a brief discussion of the historical context in which Muhammad began his prophecy, and in which the Qur'an arose as a foundational document of spiritual, religious, and legal inspiration. Noting that the Qur'an's legal role shifted and evolved as Muhammad's prophecy evolved, Hallaq illustrates how Islamic law may have arisen from a seventh-century spark in the Arabian peninsula, but ultimately evolved into a system of laws involving complex relations between legal academics, judicial institutions, and political rulers. Hallaq shows that as the Muslim polity expanded and became more complex, Muslims encountered new people with administrative institutions that could serve the nascent Muslim polity's future growth. In this vein, Hallaq pays special attention to the development of the Muslim judge or qadi. Relying on the Qur'an, oral traditions from the Prophet and his companions, and their judicial discretion, qadis were the early government administrators who resolved disputes and managed the affairs of government in newly conquered regions. As the office developed, the qadi began to shed many of his administrative duties and specialize in the resolution of legal disputes. Judges oversaw litigation, evaluated witness testimony, and ruled on disputes in light of a burgeoning legal profession that was slowly becoming autonomous in organization and discipline.
Many studies on the history of Islamic law have focused on the ulama or juristic class, and yet paid little attention to the qadi as a representative of Islamic law. Hallaq, however, shows how the qadi institution was significant in the early and later developments of Islamic law. Importantly, Hallaq shows that the qadi and the ulama were mutually involved in the development of Islamic law. He shows how early Muslims at first concentrated on oral and scriptural tradition. As the polity expanded and administrative demands increased, the judicial institution arose to perform various government functions, but later concentrated on mediating legal disputes. Ultimately, jurists trained in scriptural traditions and doctrinal precedent developed schools of law (madhhab, pl madhahib) that operated as professional guilds. The legal schools ensured the ongoing training of jurists, the production of legal knowledge, and the development of philosophies of law (usul al-fiqh), all of which contributed to the autonomy of the law as a discipline separate and distinct from other areas of learning.
In an age when Islam and Islamic law command the world's attention, Hallaq's book presents a skilled introduction to Islamic legal history that clearly defies the all-too-easy rhetoric dribbled from the pens of political commentators the world over. This book engages its topic with a breadth and level of detail that will enhance a reader's understanding of Islamic law, while conveying the complexity of a tradition all too often subjected to reductive and essentialized descriptions.
Anver Emon, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto