Few Islamic concepts have undergone as radical a semantic shift over the past couple of centuries as ijtihād. This Arabic term, confined for centuries to sophisticated works of legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh), has been liberated and transformed into the handmaiden of modern Muslim reformists throughout the world. Numerous Western scholars have investigated either the classical legal ijtihād of the first definition above or the modern employment of ijtihād among reformists encapsulated in the second, succinct gloss of this word. Valuable studies have been published on topics ranging from the relationship between ijtihād and writing fatwas (iftāء) to the so-called “closure of the gate of ijtihād” to the role of ijtihād in 19th- and 20th-century reform movements. In short, ijtihād is ubiquitous in modern studies and formulations of Islam.
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