Renowned Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Ahmad Atif Ahmad, is a specialist in Religious Studies, with various works focusing on Islamic Law in the modern age, especially in the Egyptian context. He honored an eager audience at a packed out third floor of ISAR’s Academic Specialization Centre housed in the Özbekler Tekkesi, to talk about the future of Islamic legal studies speckled with explanative examples from all over the Muslim world.
In this talk, Professor Ahmad outlined where he sees the future of Islamic legal studies under five main academic trajectories, titled: Norms and Consent; Revival of Islamic Legal Epistemology; Comparative Law; Laymen and Jurist; and Lawlessness. Drawing upon concrete examples, he Ahmad articulated in what sense the project of Islamic law will continue in Muslim communities across the world.
Ahmad said the unlike in the West, where the law belongs to the state, in Islam the law belongs to the community. Judges were elected rather than appointed. In this context, we see that norms come from consent. To this Ahmad noted that there are many instances where the norms come directly from the revealed law, though the basic source is from consent. This concept of consent distinguishes Islamic law from other political theories that are centred around the ideas of utility or rights. Accordingly, legal theory is not based on a moral theory, like a natural law theory, or on the idea that power makes law.
Ahmad also noted the need for a revival of legal epistemology, which is a question of what the law is and where it comes from. The source is not really just Quran, Sunna, ijma, qiyas [legal maxims], and more profitable work is due on other evidences that are already. In this context, there is also a need for the study of comparative law, in a world where different legal systems are becoming increasing forced to form channels of communication and compromise.
Concerning the lay people and jurist, Ahmad states that politically everyone’s opinion is equal, but in expertise we discriminate. Normally, lay people do what they want and are given limits, jurists are usually reactive. Sometimes jurists would criticise the ‘urf [custom], but today the pressure of lay culture is so great, that now the people are making the law.
Finally, Professor Ahmad spoke about lawlessness, more specifically the situations where the power of the law is absent or seriously compromised. For example, what happens to people who got married or bought land under Isis? What happens to those contracts?
Ahmad concluded in a consolatory note that relevance of Islamic law is growing despite attempts to limit it. Liberalism was a way to get out of religion, with the basic principle that there is no such thing as harm to self, but banned harmed to others. He added that we have a moment of serious silence, postmodernism is not a position, it is a rejection of all positions. But Muslim thought is still in the process of reconciling the past with the present.