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A Turn in the Epistemology and Hermeneutics of Twentieth Century U⋅ūl al-Fiqh

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I argue here that an epistemological shift has taken place in twentieth century u⋅ūl al-fiqh: away from the classical/orthodox Ash'arī position in which the human mind simply discovers the divine law and extends it to new cases on the basis of consensus (ijmā') and analogical reasoning (qiyās); and toward a position in which reason is empowered to uncover the ratio legis behind the divine injunctions — a distinctly Mu'tazilī a pproach. This shift has been accompanied by a privileging of universal ethical principles (kulliyyāt), now identified as the aims of the Law (maqā⋅id al-sharī'a), over the specific injunctions of the texts (juz'iyyāt) — a hermeneutic strategy that has often favored public interest (ma⋅laha) as the chief criterion for developing fresh legal rulings in the light of new sociopolitical conditions. The main theoreticians discussed h ere are Muhammad'Abduh, Muhammad Rashīd Ridā,'Abd al-Razzāq Sanhūrī, 'Abd al-Wahhāb Khallāf, Muhammad Abū Zahra, and Muhammad Hashim Kamali.


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