To Most Likely Know the Law: Objectivity, Authority, and Interpretation in Islamic Law

Hebraic Political Studies, Forthcoming

31 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2009

See all articles by Anver M. Emon

Anver M. Emon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law; University of Toronto Department of History

Date Written: September 17, 2009


This study focuses on the implications of interpretation on the objectivity and authority of Islamic law. Premodern Muslim jurists developed a jurisprudence of Shari‘a that acknowledged the inevitability of interpreting in the law. This should not be surprising if we assume legal systems generally require a degree of interpretive agency. The question for premodern Muslim jurists, though, was how to legitimate interpretive agency and offer standards of evaluation. As will be shown, Islamic jurists theorized about the authority of each interpretation in a system whose ultimate authority rests on a theological commitment to God as sovereign. The issues of objectivity and authority in the law are hardly unique to the Islamic legal tradition. Indeed, if there is a distinct contribution that this study offers, in addition to explicating the various Islamic legal theories, it is that however a legal system’s sovereign is understood, similar questions about objectivity and authority will arise in legal systems. Whether the sovereign is God or the state, the issue of interpretation remains of central concern. The ways in which both religious and secular legal scholars problematize objectivity and interpretation, I suggest, is not so different as to render “religious” legal systems different in kind to other systems.

Keywords: law, religion, Islamic Law, sharia, interpretation, adjudication

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Emon, Anver M., To Most Likely Know the Law: Objectivity, Authority, and Interpretation in Islamic Law (September 17, 2009). Hebraic Political Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Anver M. Emon (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

84 Queens Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S2C5
416-946-5241 (Phone)

University of Toronto Department of History ( email )

416.946.5241 (Phone)

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