The Fatigue of the Shari‘a By Ahmad Atif Ahmad (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 208 pages.)

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Samy Ayoub

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Abstract

In this challenging and thought-provoking monograph, Ahmad Atif Ahmad
draws on the issue of futūr al-Sharī‘a (the end of access to divine guidance
due to the absence of qualified jurists) to explore how early Muslim scholars
debated its possible loss. Basing himself upon the analysis of medieval Sunni
legal and theological texts, the author divides his monograph into four parts:
Part I, “Foundations,” chapters 1-3; Part II, “Jurists and Nonjurists,” chapters
4-6; Part III, “Modernity and Its Questions,” chapters 7-8; and Part IV, “Beyond
Modernity,” chapters 9-10.
Ahmad situates his project as a commentary on the debate over the destiny
of religious teachings “from the point of view of Muslim jurist-theologians
and those who engaged the intellectual production of these jurists and theologians”
(p. 1). He pursues his central goal, to explore “the destiny and current
status of God’s guidance from a Muslim perspective” (p. 2), by explaining
that medieval Muslim theologians and jurists defined the Shari‘a’s survival
in terms of the availability of scholarly “knowledge” about it (p. 2). Utilizing
these medieval debates to offer important insights into similar contemporary
debates, he insists that empirical research will continue to refute the “death of
the sharī‘a” thesis.
In the Introduction, Ahmad poses a question that goes to the heart of this
debate: Could God’s guidance, available to previous generations as religious
histories tell us, somehow become inaccessible at some point? His premise is
that the “fatigue of the sharī‘a” has been a subject of continuous debate
throughout the Islamic tradition and thus cannot be considered a “recent” or
“modern” phenomenon. He closely evaluates two kinds of debates: (1) those
in the Islamic tradition about the end of access to futūr al-Sharī‘a and (2) those
in modern western scholarship in the discipline of Islamic legal studies about
the Shari‘a’s death.
One of the important issues in this book is Ahmad’s discussion of this
supposed “fatigue” in relation to other intertwined inquiries about the nature
of ijtihād (independent reasoning), God’s guidance and justice, and the availability
of His guidance today (p. 15). This suggests to the reader that the claims
made about this fatigue can be answered only after addressing auxiliary, yet
fundamental, concerns about the Shari‘a in Muslim societies. Ahmad further
complicates the question of its death by pointing out the medieval relationship
between legal and theological reflections on this question. He alerts readers
to the problem of defining “sharī‘a” and “fatigue of the sharī‘a” and observes ...

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