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Reviewed by:
  • Shari‘a: Theory, Practice, Transformations
  • S. Van den Branden
Shari‘a: Theory, Practice, Transformations by W. B. Hallaq, 2009. New York: Cambridge University Press, ix + 614 pp., £38, $53. ISBN: 978-0-521-67874-2 (pbk). [AC]

We live in times where, in many countries with a significantly growing number of diaspora Muslim communities, we witness a growing hysteria connected to the topic of shariah; a good guide, therefore, is of utmost importance to this subject. Without any doubt, such a guide can be found in Wael B. Hallaq’s Shari‘a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Writing an overview on the shariah can take many directions: from an historical overview focusing on the formative period, over a description of the theory behind shariah thinking, to a focus on the way shariah is practiced in different temporal and geographical settings. Divided in three parts, Hallaq’s Shari‘a does it all.

Writing a history of shariah equals unraveling the formation history of Islamic law. This is what Hallaq does in the first part entitled ‘The Pre-Modern Tradition’ where he takes the reader from the formative period to the later dynasties. The book under review here provides a new framing of Hallaq’s theory on the matter, in which his seminal views on the emergence of Islamic law have their place. To fully understand the novelty of his paradigm, one has to be aware of his earlier writings in which he has positioned his views against historically earlier interpretations on the matter. We find a clear example in his dealing with ‘mujtahids, muqallids and fatwa’s’ (111–113). While these three pages might seem self-explanatory to the unprepared reader, they do present an example of the exceptional change in scholarly interpretations on the topic under discussion. Ever since the second part of the last century, Joseph Schacht’s views presented in The Origins of Mohammedan Jurisprudence (1950) and his An Introduction to Islamic Law (1964) provided the leading paradigm concerning the emergence and understanding of Islamic jurisprudence. That paradigm presented an overview of the emergence of Islamic jurisprudence after Muhammad’s death as evolving [End Page 102] from ‘ancient schools of law’ over ‘personal schools of law’ and, after a significant reworking by al-Shafi‘i, resulting in the emergence of the classical theory of usul al-fiqh and the closing of the gate of ijtihad by the tenth century CE. For almost half a century this historical genealogy provided the general Western scholarly framework on Islamic jurisprudence. Throughout the years, many Western scholars questioned some of the building blocks of that theory. Yet they did not present what one could call a real thread to the ruling paradigm. This changed ever since the publication of Hallaq’s sharply written contributions, many of which appeared in the late 1980s. Many of the contributions by Hallaq tackled several of the basic assumptions of Schachts’ paradigm and have later on been reproduced in his subsequent volume Law and Legal Theory in Classical and Medieval Islam (Aldershot: Variorum 1995), presenting the matter in a larger framework. In a sense, Hallaq does the same when he treats the ideas he developed throughout the years again in the volume under review, but this time he presents them within a much more encompassing view and therefore at a much higher pace, referring the reader for details of the background and extraordinary character of his views to earlier works in footnotes. Apart from the formative history of Islamic law in which he devotes specific attention to the development of Twelver Shi‘a legal theory (ch.2, 113–124), in Part 1 Hallaq treats the step from the emerging framework of Islamic jurisprudence to the aspect of legal education and interconnected aspects of political involvement (Chapter 3), the relation between Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic jurisdiction (Chapter 4) and providing specific attention to the latter topic within the dynasties emerging after the fall of the ‘Abbasid empire until the Ottoman period (Chapter 5). Again the historical accurateness and sense for nuance and detail present in this volume become clear when, in the introduction of the fourth chapter, Hallaq presents the reader with a detailed historical account of a...


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