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The Caliphs, the ʿUlamāʾ, and the Law: Defining the Role and Function of the Caliph in the Early ʿAbbāsid Period

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The early ʿAbbāsid period is usually thought of as a time when a definitive and enduring separation between religion and politics took place. On this view, expressed most notably by Lapidus and Crone and Hinds, the failure of the Miḥna instituted by the caliph al-Maʾmūn, a major showdown with prominent ʿulamāʾ, is taken as the critical moment which marked the end of any involvement of the caliphs in matters of law. Arguing against any such separation between the religious or legal and the political realms, this essay analyses various indications in juristic and historical sources from the early ʿAbbāsid period to show that the caliph continued to be recognized as a participant in the function of commenting on or resolving obscure matters of a legal import. There is, moreover, considerable evidence to show caliphal participation in religious life in general, before as well as after the Miḥna, and no evidence to indicate a separation between religion and politics.

Affiliations: 1: Quaid-i Azam University


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