Madha taqra', ya abu daoud? Churches and Ijtihad

First of all, great link here, where you can listen to a reading of 1st Clement:

Open Source Audio

The sentence above is Arabic for "What are you reading Abu Daoud?" So since the blogosphere is all abuzz with sundry articles about the Pope's American sojourn, I just want to do this thing, where I inexplicably and self-centeredly tell you what I'm reading:

1) Narrow Gate Churches, by Atallah Mansour. Just started it, but so far I really like his writing style. Few books exist about Arab Christianity, few of those are written by Arab Christians. This is one such book. Regarding the name:

To protect their ancient churches from desecrating marauders on horseback, worshipers in the Holy Lands centuries ago sealed off most of their doors to keep the invaders outside their sacred halls, so the term, "narrow gate churches" began to be used to describe Christian churches in the land of our savior’s birth. This history of how Christians have survived for two millennia under stressful conditions is a tribute to the faith of the remnant community which has rather miraculously survived under hostile regimes and straitened conditions.

2) A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An introduction to Sunni usul al fiqh, by Wael Hallaq. Interestingly, both of these authors are Nazarenes (from Nazareth, not the denomination of that name). This book is pretty dense to be honest, and I would not recommend it to anyone who has not already studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence, the science of shari'a and its origins, sources, and methods).

For beginners in this important topic I would rather recommend the shorter and more basic book by Bernard Weiss, The Spirit of Islamic Law.

One interesting aspect of the conversation going on today in this area has to do with the "gates of ijtihad". Ijtihad--and this is not a simple topic--is a sort of authoritative interpretation of the Quran which provides a hermeneutical foundation wherefrom one can embark upon the issuance of new verdicts and legal opinions. The question is this: can original ijtihad (that is, novel ijtihad) be produced today? I would say no, that since the 10th C. or so it has been forbidden by Islamic orthodoxy.

But I think Hallaq wants to suggest that there is at least a theoretical opening for novel ijtihad. I am interested in hearing his arguments, though I suspect that it will remain just that, theoretical. Just as it is theoretically possible to have a new ecumenical council that is both Orthodox and Catholic which will issue a new Creed. In theory it could happen. In practice? Almost impossible.

(If you haven't already read my latest piece on the shari'a it is HERE.)


Don said…
I would think that ijtihad would be a lot simpler in Shi'a Islam than in Sunni.
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Don,

I actually have not studied Shi'a ijtihad very much. But I would be curious to know why you would think that.

I do know that according to the shi'a the words of their "imams" (which means the ones who came after Muhammad, his successors, a different definition than in Sunni Islam where the imam is simply a prayer-leader/teacher) are also infallible and are thus sources of revelation which must then be interpreted (ijtihad) and applied.
Don said…
What you said about the Shi'a imams is precisely the reason I said what I said about ijtihad in Shi'a Islam. Without such an authoritative source it's next to impossible to make such changes. But such an event is purely hypothetical, even in Shi'a Islam.

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