Function of Orality in Islamic Law and Practices

Author: Souaiaia, Ahmed E.
Through the examination of primary and secondary literature, this work establishes that Islamic law is a corpus of accretive ascription fundamentally informed by authoritative precedents and practically preserved in the adaptive oral discourse. In a first phase, Islamic law developed in the exclusivity of the oral environment that characterized the Qur’anic, Hadathic, and Hermeneutic discourses. It is argued that for more than a century of the life of the emerging Muslim community, these three discourses were exclusively preserved and transmitted orally. In a second phase (2nd to 4th Islamic centuries), the dialectic and casuistic nature of disciplines as provided Muslim religious authorities with the priviledged oral declarations that enabled and empowered their decrees and opinions. Finally, once the theological and legal schools of thought emerged (5th to 21st centuries), orality became even more prominent in delineating the boundaries between that which is in conformity with Islamic legal rules and that which is not. The transformed legal tradition, while aspiring to keep the connection between the past (Qur’an and Sunnah) and present has remained dependant on orality which ascertained the preservation of the singularly specific and characteristics traits of each school of thought.


“The importance of this work centers on the significant role of orality in the origins and development of Islamic law. Its innovative approach challenges both the traditional stance of Muslim authors, who maintain that the law is exclusively based on the texts of the Qur’?n and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, and the stance of some Western authors, who maintain that in some cases the texts of the traditions were either altered or outright forged ..." – (From the Foreword) Professor Farhat J. Ziadeh, University of Washington

“This groundbreaking work of scholarship forges a[n] … understanding of the Islamic law in its historical context. Based on a wealth of evidence extracted from numerous historical episodes, the author argues most cogently that the Islamic Shari ?a is a social construct shaped by the prevailing norms in the formative stages of the Islamic civilization and sustained through the subsequent centuries as a means for sharing and preserving significant information about God, man, and life. He concludes that this evolving construct was inspired and empowered by the authority of an oral discourse throughout the history of Islamic civilization, both in Sunnism and Shi ?ism.” – Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Director, The Center for Persian Studies, University of Maryland

Table of Contents

Part 1: Orality during the Formative Period of Islamic Law
1. Hermeneutics, Custom and Continuity
2. Inheritance in the Qur’an and Exegesis
3. The Art of Elocution: Declamation in the Islamic Discourse
4. Place of Orality in Semitic Traditions
5. The Function of Sounds in Arabic
6. Inheritance in the Hadath
7. Conclusion
Part 2: After Orality: Accretive Ascription Ascription in Islamic Law
Modes of Authority: Tradition, Reason, and Accretive Ascription
Intervening Kal?m: Ascribing Meaning to Dal?l
Beyond the Texts: Definitions and Applications of Naskh
Inheritance Laws and Orality
Dissent and Plurality in the Islamic Religious Discourse