Revolutionary Islamic Jurisprudence: A Restatement of the Arab Spring

56 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2016 Last revised: 28 Feb 2019

Date Written: June 7, 2017


In early 2011, a wave of uprisings swept through the Middle East, ushering in a year of protest and radical change. The events came to be known as the Arab Spring and they forever altered prior conventions. One outcome was the initiation of a vibrant legal discourse on Islamic law’s stance on revolution. It juxtaposed two sides, those advocating rigid adherence to the status quo legal tradition, a rejection of any opposition to the head of state, against those agitating for a more dynamic approach encompassing the public’s desire for freedom, dignity and justice. The legitimacy of the protests and its underlying universal values became an Islamic legal debate. Recognizing the potency of religious law, states employed their own Muslim jurists to delegitimize the protestors. In response, jurists from across the Middle East issued fatwas (legal opinions) presenting legal arguments in support of protests. Their challenge was to advocate for legal change, inserting new meanings into the law, while maintaining their legitimacy as authentically part of the Islamic legal discourse. In the process, they gave life to a Sunni legal discourse on non-violent revolution.

This article identifies the primary arguments in this pro-uprising legal discourse: textual and policy-based. By examining fatwas from 2011, the first year of the uprisings, the article will demonstrate how jurists pursued creative techniques of legal interpretation to stay firmly within conventional Islamic law while still pursuing unconventional approaches to it. By bringing new readings to Islam’s constitutional sources, expanding the category of legal obligations and incorporating contemporary formulations of the idea of rights, this article provides new insights into how rapidly Islamic law can adapt to radical changes in the world it inhabits.

Keywords: Law & religion, Islamic law, Arab Spring protests, legal change, Sunni legal discourse, non-violent revolution, legal opinions, fatwas, creative interpretation techniques, redefining terms, utilizing proof-texts, persuasive authorities, expanding pre-existing concepts, reformulations of rights

Suggested Citation

Zulfiqar, Adnan, Revolutionary Islamic Jurisprudence: A Restatement of the Arab Spring (June 7, 2017). 49 N.Y.U. J. Int'l L. & Pol. 43 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Adnan Zulfiqar (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102
United States

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