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Ritual Rewards: A Consideration of Three Recent Approaches to Sunni Purity Law

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image of Islamic Law and Society

In an effort to raise interest in the subject of Islam's ritual legal material, I discuss here the strengths and weaknesses of three recent studies of Sunni Islamic purity law (taharah). In light of these studies, I investigate the degree to which theories and models drawn from the fields of anthropology and comparative religion may be said to shed light on Islamic ritual law and practice. As—to varying degrees—each of my selected authors contests the theories of cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas, special attention is paid to her work. My own opinion is that, as long as we proceed cautiously, an awareness of anthropological approaches and cross-cultural data, such as that proposed by Douglas, can be helpful in understanding (the uniqueness of) Islamic ritual law; and that there are wide-ranging benefits for students of Islam, anthropology and comparative religion in doing just this.


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