Junaid Quadri

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:


To medieval Muslim scholars, ijtihad had a very specific technical meaning relating to the activity of an appropriately qualified jurist (a mujtahid) in producing or justifying a legal judgement (hukm sharʿi). Historically, ijtihad was most commonly defined as “the jurist’s exerting himself to the utmost of his capacities to arrive at a considered opinion with respect to a legal judgment.” The 14th-century polymath al-Jurjāni, however, offers a second definition: the jurist’s “sparing of no effort in seeking out an appropriate justification for a legal judgment.” This polyvalence reflects a debate found in the sources about the precise function of the genre—usul al-fiqh, or legal theory—most closely associated with the term. Regardless of whether or not the ijtihadic process was (especially in the early period of Islam) the following of a well-defined procedure in pursuit of a ruling, sophisticated hermeneutic and logical constraints did nevertheless come to be precisely delineated in works of usul al-fiqh, and could not be altogether ignored. The results of the ijtihad of a jurist could result in legal opinions called fatwās, and the accumulated findings of a legal school (madhhab) would often be laid out systematically in compendia of rulings known as books of furuʾ al-fiqh, or simply fiqh (substantive law). In the modern period, the term has become much more ambiguous, often taken up as a general rallying call by Muslim modernists to indicate their entitlement to advance reformist positions at variance with the historical legal corpus. To Western scholars, the term has consistently functioned as a barometer of the flexibility, vitality, and responsiveness (or lack thereof) of Islamic law.

Article.  7338 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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