Facts, Values, and Institutions Notes on Contemporary Islamic Legal Debate

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Alexandre Caeiro

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Abstract

Since the 1990s, an increasingly diverse set of Muslim scholars and
institutions has called for the integration of social science into the
system of Islamic normativity. This article explores some historical
and conceptual issues raised by this call. It approaches the issue
through an examination of one of its central concepts: the notion of
fiqh al-wāqi‘ (the fiqh of reality or realistic fiqh). The article traces
this concept’s distinctively modern history, situating it in the context
of various projects of religious reform and in relation to specific
anxieties regarding the nature of modern law. Taking a set of controversies
related to Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s fatwas on Muslim minorities
as a case-study, it then argues that the concept of a “realistic
fiqh” renders visible not only the difficulties that social scientific
inquiry presents to the hermeneutical commitments of the Islamic
legal tradition, but also the challenges that the layered structure of
reality in the Islamic tradition poses to the sociological imagination.
In conclusion, this paper briefly addresses two implications of the
Islamic legal debates discussed previously: the question of the political
and the limits of methodological individualism. It also suggests
that contemporary Islamic legal scholars who struggle with
these questions may be laying the ground for the development of a
critical Islamic jurisprudence centrally concerned with the articulation
of facts, values, and institutions.

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