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Is There Something Postmodern about Uṣūl Al-Fiqh? Ijmāʿ, Constraint, and Interpretive Communities

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Chapter Summary

This chapter maps Stanley Fish's concept of interpretive communities on to discussions of consensus and legal disagreement in premodern works of Islamic legal theory. The goal is to see to what extent the descriptions offered by Fish and by authors of works of uṣūl al-fiqh of the conditions of disagreement within a given community of interpreters exhibit similarities. On its surface, premodern Islamic legal theory can appear postmodern: its recognition of interpretation as central to the legal enterprise; its unembarrassed invocation of and reliance on Arabic literary theory and poetics; its careful assessment of the linguistic limits of communication; its insistence on the provisional nature of legal interpretation; and especially its theorizing of doctrinal diversity. According to the author, some basic characteristics of postmodern thought and postmodern legal theory must be identified and acknowledged as fundamentally different from key aspects of premodern Islamic legal thought and legal theory.

Keywords: Arabic literary theory; interpretive communities; Islamic legal theory; legal disagreement; uṣūl al-fiqh



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