Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Reinvention of Sharī‘a under the British Raj: In Search of Authenticity and Certainty


Influenced by Orientalist assumptions and Utilitarian ideals, and needing to enforce a system of adjudication that responded to their interests, the East India Company's officers selected among varied religious texts a set of norms and tried to apply them consistently. The decision to rely on texts rather than practice, the choice of certain precepts at the expense of others, and their rigid application ran counter to the traditional administration of justice, which had been fluid, contextual, and plural. They also distorted the meaning of Hanafi fiḳh, turning what had been an instrument of legitimation, a moral reference, and a source of social standing into a system of organized dispute settlement. The emphasis on religious textual sources and the attempt to use them as a basis for codification coincided with the idea, which gained ground in the nineteenth century among Muslim reformist movements, that political weakness could be countered by returning to a pristine scripturalist Islam, focused on its legal aspects and seen as a systematic doctrine devoid of ambiguities. These ideas can be also found in the Islamist thought that subsequently spread among urban reformist movements and in legal reforms adopted in Pakistan. A review of case studies, however, suggests that the flexibility and contextuality that characterized the enforcement of Islamic law in precolonial Islam is still to be found in legal practice.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Wael B Hallaq . 1997. A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunni usul al-fiqh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nicholas Heer , ed. 1990. Islamic Law and Jurisprudence: Studies in Honour of Farhat H. Ziadeh. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Werner Menski . 2003. Hindu Law beyond Tradition and Modernity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 49 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 101 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.