The Disagreements of the Jurists: A Manual of Islamic Legal Theory.

Author:Poonawala, Ismail K.
Position:Book review

Al-Qadi al-Numan, The Disagreements of the Jurists: A Manual of Islamic Legal Theory. Edited and translated by DEVIN J. STEWART. Library of Arabic Literature. New York: NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2015. Pp. xxxviii + 405. $40.

This volume is a welcome addition to the growing collection of English translations on Islamic law in general and Shii-Ismaili law in particular. Kitab Ikhtilaf usul al-madhahib (hereafter, Ikhtilaf) is a foundational legal text in the Ismaili school wherein its celebrated author al-Qadl al-Numan (d. 363/974), the school's founder, lay down the principles of legal theory prior to the composition of his magnum opus Daaim al-islam (The Pillars of Islam; hereafter, Daaim). Written under the guidance of the fourth Fatimid caliph-imam al-Muizz li-Din Allah (r. 341-365/953-975), the latter is a manual of Ismaili law for the use of the newly founded Fatimid state and the broader Ismaili community. Though it was composed more than a thousand years ago it still remains the supreme authority among the Mustali-Tayyibi community of the Bohras in the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent for personal and family matters. This is because after al-Numan there was no significant development in Ismaili law for various reasons that are beyond the scope of this review (see Ismail K. Poonawala, 'Al-Qadi al-Numan and Ismaili jurisprudence," in Mediaeval Ismaili History and Thought, ed. E Daftary [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996], 131-32).

Ikhtilaf was first edited with an elaborate and erudite English introduction by Shamun Tayyib Ali Lokhandwalla (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1972) from two recent manuscripts of Indian provenance (the editor states that his access to a third manuscript was limited to a few hours, merely for perusal). Another edition by Mustafa Ghalib, likewise based on two recent manuscripts, appeared the following year (Beirut: Dar al-Andalus, 1973). Although editions by this latter editor and his colleague Arif Tamir are not trustworthy and their introductions should be taken with a grain of salt (see my edition of al-Sijistani, Kitab al-Iftikhar [Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 2000], 1 [Eng.], 48-49 [Ar.]), the question that pops to mind is, What brought Devin Stewart to re-edit and translate Ikhtilaf! Certainly, as a student of Islamic law he realized that it is one of the basic works of legal theory in the history of Muslim legal thought. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to state that Ikhtilaf is a major milestone in the development of Islamic legal theories following the seminal work of Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafiis (d. 204/820) al-Risala, as previously indicated by Lokhandwalla. The need for an English translation was acutely felt by students of Islamic law working to track the course of legal theoretical development prior to the emergence of the four Sunni schools of law, most probably toward the end of the fourth/tenth century. And we are grateful for this admirable translation, which fills a major lacuna in our field.

The editor's introduction briefly addresses al-Numan's life and his legal works. It then covers the...

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