Schacht and the Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence
1933 Words8 Pages
Joseph Schacht was perhaps one of the more controversial Western scholars on Islamic law. Although his work, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, was originally received with some measure of critical acclaim, over time, scholars have attempted to redress the controversial underpinnings of his theory on the nature of prophetic authority in the centuries after Mohammad’s death. At the heart of Schacht’s argument is the idea that legal traditions ostensibly stemming from Mohammad were in fact created by traditionists in the 2nd Century AH to change the doctrine of the ancient schools of law (Schacht 1953 178). These fabricated traditions, in turn, can be determined to be false because of the existence of a common narrator in their isnad. This narrator, Schacht postulates, was the individual who put both the tradition into circulation and gave it an historical isnad leading back to the Companions, and thus the Prophet himself.
Schacht’s theory, on the surface, seems plausible; its argument of the changes in the literary period, particularly its emphasis on the influence of Shafi’i in bringing about the supreme authoritativeness of the traditions of Mohammad and the explosion of traditions after this authority was established, no doubt has some basis in fact. Yet it is the application of the evolution of prophetic traditions, and their isnads, backwards into the pre-literary period, that Schacht ventures into supposition, even taking his unique and impressive theory of the common link into account. What follows is a summary of Schacht’s theory, as put forth in Origins, from a chronological perspective and a critical analysis of this theory.
The evolution of legal doctrine of the ancient schools of law, from the time after Mohammad...
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...s a dedicated scholar, and more than likely, were he to have had access to the resources available to the scholars succeeding him, some of his work may have been modified as a result of this new information.
What remains evident is that Schacht’s work tapped into a very real skepticism that existed in the Western scholarly community. Whether this skepticism was based in polemical motives, such as attempting to debunk the entire legal basis of a religion, or it was based in a very real scientific desire to ascertain the true historical origins of an integral part of Islamic law is not known. It is, more likely, a combination of both. But Schacht’s work, contentious though it may be, serves a purpose, or perhaps the main purpose, within the field of academia: the free exchange of ideas that can be employed (or rejected) by others to explain the world in which we live.