Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law by Wael Hallaq: Book Review by Shaykh Akram Nadwi

Origins HallaqEver since Wael Hallaq’s Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law was published, a large number of academic reviews were written on the book, none more thorough and critical than the damaging review of Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. I believe, in fact, that it is his review that influenced the tone of Christopher Melchert of Oxford University in his short review of the same book.

You can read Shaykh Nadwi’s review of the book here:

Mohammad Akram Nadwi’s Review of Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law

13 thoughts on “Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law by Wael Hallaq: Book Review by Shaykh Akram Nadwi

  1. Perhaps, for the sake of fairness — of being `adl and a good believer — you care to point out to your readers that Hallaq replied to Nadwi, also damaging his critique of Origins quite badly (since Nadwi’s review is full of untrue and inaccurate allegations).

    Hallaq’s Rejoinder to Nadwi was published by the same journal (JIS) a few months after Nadwi’s review appeared in print.

    Please see:

    http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/19/3/456

    Wa-Allahu bil-haqqi `aliim!

  2. Assalamu ‘alaykum,

    It is great to be able to read both sides of a story, such as is in the case of Nadwi’s review and the subsequent response of Dr. Hallaq.

    Out of curiosity, is the above commentator the actual professor Hallaq himself, or someone writing on his behalf?

    The at Tahawi team would be incredibly honored if it is the case that Dr. Hallaq takes the time to read our humble posts.

  3. Nadwi’s powerful critique demolishes the foundation of Hallaq’s arguments. It cogently establishes that Hallaq’s viewpoints aren’t simply justifiable on primary evidence. Until now the review of Hallaq was done mainly by non-Muslims but for the first time we have in Nadwi an industrious researcher who tears into the credentials of Hallaq as never before. The Rejoinder is sophistory and a damage limitation exercise to restore credibility. I hope Nadwi explores further the works of Hallaq on a grand scale. Until then I assume Hallaq will continue to be dismissive of the serious questions that now confront his until now pre-eminent status.

  4. To the editors and readers:

    Few will deny that currents of rhetorical and sophistical polemic continue to darken a great deal of discourses within the greater field of Islamic legal studies. For the sincere scholar and independent truth-seeker, this is no time for intellectual laziness. Thoroughness and accuracy in scholarship have never been higher priorities than they are now, and both require a great deal of rigorous study and cautious research, guided by the most relevant and rational methodologies of argumentation one is capable of mustering to the cause of one’s own intellectual exploration, of one’s own rihla fi talab al-‘ilm.

    In this particular case, the question may be simply put as a series of choices:

    Ought one to: 1) rely on brief, secondary, and (quite necessarily) reductive book reviews to formulate one’s overall conception of the attitudes, methods, and theses of a particular scholar; or 2) immerse oneself in the corpus of texts produced by that scholar, bringing one’s own experience and scholarly training to bear upon any conclusions regarding said scholar’s attitudes, methods, and theses; or 3) read that scholar’s corpus and the relevant book reviews, bringing one’s own experience and scholarly training to bear, first, on one’s own conclusions re: attitudes, methods, and theses of the concerned scholar, and second, on the book reviewers’ assessments of that scholar’s attitudes, methods, and theses?

    If it is true of the sincere scholar that he/she enjoins thoroughness, accuracy, rational argumentation, and scholarly rigor in research; if it is true of the sincere scholar that he/she abhors intellectual laziness; then the choice in this particular case can only be number three, above. This choice alone will produce that crucial complex of opinions (i.e., (a) all that the concerned scholar has opined, (b) all that reviewers have opined concerning that scholar’s opinions, and (c) all that the investigator has opined re: ‘a’ and ‘b’) from which the sincere scholar may, in the spirit of scholarly rigor, comfortably draw his/her overall assessment. And please note that even this last assessment must be subjected to updating so long as the subject scholar’s corpus (and relevant reviewers’ commentary) continues to expand and evolve. We cannot allow ourselves the slothful and idealist fantasy of monolith scholars who neither expand nor evolve.

    The corpus of works produced to date by Wael B. Hallaq in the field of Islamic legal studies is extensive and variegated, as are the classes he has taught, and the lectures he has delivered. An incomplete listing, in need of updating, may be found on the following pages:

    http://www.mcgill.ca/islamicstudies/faculty/wael-hallaq/publications/

    http://www.mcgill.ca/islamicstudies/faculty/wael-hallaq/courses/

    http://www.mcgill.ca/islamicstudies/faculty/wael-hallaq/lectures/

    Having read the greater part of Wael Hallaq’s published material to date, and attended a number of his courses, I will say that his texts and his teachings are more than articulate: they speak for themselves very clearly, very coherently, and, surprisingly (considering the width and depth of subject matter), very consistently. Nadwi’s review, therefore, came as a complete shock in that it reflected accurately absolutely none of the themes and messages with which I am familiar, having been immersed in this scholar’s work. Entrusted with the task of representing a complex desert ecology, he drew the sad picture of a walrus. Moreover, I found, overall, Nadwi’s conclusions to be based on inaccurate premises and/or inferred through fallacious means. An apparent disdain for accurate representation and rational dialectic was further tainted by an openly polemical tone. In short, I cannot believe that anyone who has carefully read Origins and the rest of Wael Hallaq’s textual corpus could accept Nadwi’s overall assessment. It is, simply, horribly and inexcusably off the mark.

    This, however, is merely my opinion. It is a product of 1) bringing my past experience (of Hallaq’s corpus and teaching) and my current state of scholarly training to bear on my own conclusions re: the attitudes, methods, and theses of Wael B. Hallaq; and 2) bringing that experience and training to bear on Nadwi’s assessments of Wael B. Hallaq.

    It goes without saying that I would encourage the editors and readers of this site not to rely on my opinion alone, or upon any other singular opinion, or upon any incomplete sampling of opinions. Hallaq’s writings speak quite well for themselves, and he/she who has not read the corpus of Hallaq as well as the relevant reviews has – in the name of scholarly rigor – a great deal of reading and cautious assessment to do. No sincere scholar who is truly concerned with this set of issues can afford not to take up this task with due rigor, for it cannot be repeated often enough: this is no time for intellectual laziness.

  5. Walter Young is actually the one employing sophistry to obfuscate real discussion. In fact, using rhetoric to muddy the obvious point: Hallaq’s corpus contribution requires a wholesale review in light of the multitude of errors, discrepancies and inadequacies highlighted by Nadwi’s survey. Academic value is enhanced by embracing criticism and not stiffling discussion. Hallaq’s admirers are more concerned about his plethora of books and pre-eminent standing than any serious observations on his work.

  6. Might I take a moment here to commend Walter Young for offering us a second chance to see someone say so much – and eloquently at that – without actually saying anything in particular.

    What is utterly fantastic about Hallaq’s response and Young’s diatribe is the determination to prove the wood in the absence of any distinct plant-life. I would have wholly applauded Young’s call for a tempered analysis of the points at hand were it not for his ill fated and ironic call for ‘thoroughness’ and ‘accuracy’ in scholarship.

    I would tentatively contend that Young has ‘assumed’ a yard stick of scholarly rigour of fantastical and delusionary proportions for one ‘realm’ of scholarship while adequately assuming its absence or inferiority for ‘the other – Said would turn in his grave!

    In my honest opinion I don’t see any disingenuous intent in Young, or Hallaq for that matter, but only that they fail, for whatever reason, to see the different standards that serious Muslim scholars hold, and historically have held themselves to.

    It is enough to say that even the more ‘trivial’ failings in Hallaq’s pathology of errors; namely, that of naming, would have been enough to draw serious concerns, certainly within the circles of traditional Hadith criticism.

    Of course we must appreciate that it is not always as simple to know whether the grass is actually greener on the other side by taking a casual glance. Young and Hallaq might be in danger of seriously benefiting their scholarship by considering a few years sabbatical in Saharnphur.

  7. To Suhail Ahmed:

    I am pleased that we agree on a most important point: “Hallaq’s corpus contribution requires a wholesale review.” That is a most excellent idea indeed, and the more critical the better, so long as that critique is tempered by rational argument. (Puerile psycho-analyses, hasty generalizations, and unfounded conjecture regarding authorial intent, incidentally, do not constitute rational bases.) Certainly all serious scholars ought to engage all of their readings critically, all of the time. Thus I am also in complete agreement with you on another point, mainly: “Academic value is enhanced by embracing criticism.” Why you assumed I thought otherwise, I’ll never understand, especially in light of my call for “a great deal of rigorous study and cautious research, guided by the most relevant and rational methodologies of argumentation one is capable of mustering to the cause of one’s own intellectual exploration.” In avoidance of conjecture and psycho-analysis myself, I will simply ask you to explain what compelled you to such an erroneous assumption regarding my intent.

  8. To Mansoor:

    I am pleased that you have not seen the need to question my intent, as it is indeed sincere. I will happily do you the same honor, though I must, respectfully, ask you to clarify certain phrases and statements which I confess I was unable to comprehend, or found to be obscure. They are:

    1) “the determination to prove the wood in the absence of any distinct plant-life”
    2) “Of course we must appreciate that it is not always as simple to know whether the grass is actually greener on the other side by taking a casual glance.”
    3) “Young and Hallaq might be in danger of seriously benefiting their scholarship by considering a few years sabbatical in Saharnphur.”

    As for your (graciously tentative) charge that “Young has ‘assumed’ a yard stick of scholarly rigour of fantastical and delusionary proportions for one ‘realm’ of scholarship while adequately assuming its absence or inferiority for ‘the other,” I must whole-heartedly protest. If I understand you correctly (and I am not at all certain I do), you have done me the disservice of extending my critique of Nadwi to the whole of Muslim scholarship, it would seem, past and present. This is a horrifically unjust charge, and so off the mark and flat-out wrong that my jaw dropped upon reading it. To the contrary, I have seen genius everywhere I have looked in the pre-modern traditions of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, furuq, ashbah wa’l-naza’ir, qawa’id, maqasid, mantiq, jadal/munazara, adab al-bahth, etc. In fact, I have been, and continue to be, inspired by the extraordinary subtlety and insight of the great minds of these traditions, to the extent that al-Juwayni, al-Amidi, al-Shatibi, and countless others stand as my intellectual heros. The rigor, depth, sincerity, and sophistication of this scholarship is, in a word, unparalleled in my experience.

    Again, I may have misunderstood the charge, but your earlier statement that both Hallaq and myself “fail, for whatever reason, to see the different standards that serious Muslim scholars hold, and historically have held themselves to” simply makes no sense. In regard to myself, such a charge is an erroneous assumption I hope to have corrected at least in part by stressing my awe of the scholarship permeating the above-named traditions, and the inspiration they have provided to my own studies. In regard to Hallaq, this charge makes even less sense, as the greater part of his writings stand not only as a cogent and powerful critique of Orientalism and the gross distortions of colonial projects (and of certain modern scholars maintaining these distortions, such as Crone), but, at nearly every turn, Hallaq’s work stands as a vindication of the sheer genius, sophistication, and adaptability of pre-modern Shari’a and all of its practical and theoretical disciplines. His critiques are invariably aimed at modernity and its projects, and those who — wittingly or otherwise — distort or befoul that awe-inspiring pre-modern body of shar’i disciplines and institutions. To discard all of this incredibly important work on the basis of a few errors with names and dates in a single volume would be a gross disservice to the field of Islamic Legal Studies (not to mention a manifestation of the fallacy of hasty generalization.)

    So yes, let us all, please, review all of Hallaq’s writings, and let us do it critically (as we should with all that we read). As stated before, I believe you will find his work to vindicate itself quite eloquently. But, as I also stated, don’t take my word for it, or, for that matter, Nadwi’s. Let us all make our own careful and rational assessments, in light of all that has been said.

  9. I am a great admirer of Sh Nadwi and above all I love him for the sake of Allah, as i would all the ulama. That said, Hallaq has demonstrated the points of contention and at the moment it is beyond me how the Shaikh assumed much that was seemingly untrue. If Hallaq’s replies were deficient i have yet to see where exactly, in fact all those accusing Hallaq of sophistry do not demonstrate where, and for that i do symphasise with him and Young. I am open to a response, however as some of the salaf have said, we take the truth from wherever it comes. WAllahu a’lam.

  10. Pingback: Principles of Interacting with the Sacred Texts with Shaykh Akram Nadwi » Suhaib Webb - audio, discussions, translations and musings

  11. Does anyone have any information about Shaykh Akram’s books on usul ['al-mabadi fi usul al-tafsir', '...al-fiqh', etc.]?

    Especially [information] regarding their level of difficulty [both language and content] and availability [in the UK]?

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