Moral Habituation in the Law: Rethinking the Ethics of the Sharī‘a

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 Law and Contemporary Theory Working Group – Spring Talks and Workshops

Junaid Quadri, Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago

Abstract: Modern writing on Islamic law has tended to note that fiqh is “a composite science of law and morality.” Despite this awareness, however, much early Orientalist scholarship has been content to focus on the “properly legal” subject matter of fiqh, on the premise that this latter could be neatly distinguished from its “religious” or “ethical elements.” In recent years, this distinction has been strengthened to locate a public-private distinction characteristic of a liberal order. This paper attempts to complicate this picture by locating alternative normative frameworks for understanding the intertwined nature of the jural and the moral in the thought-world of Islamic jurists. It is specifically argued that the Aristotelian commitment to conscientious ethical cultivation and habituation, recently examined in a modern Muslim context by Saba Mahmood, historically found expression in fiqh in the concept of iṣrār (persistence on sin), which in turn found its way into legal maxims, court proceedings and even the fundamental five-fold categorization of legal norms, indicating its deep penetration into ways of thinking about the law. By noting the interdependence of law and morality in Islamic legal writing, and in particular the central role of jurists in inculcating moral values, it is argued – against the liberal insistence on freedom as the requisite ingredient for a proper ethics – that authoritative constraints are in fact productive of ethical agency.

This is a pre-circulated paper and there will be no formal presentation. A light lunch and refreshments will be served. Please RSVP to if you plan to attend the talk and wish to receive a copy of Professor Quadri’s paper.

Junaid Quadri is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies in Doha. He received his PhD in 2013 from McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies, with a dissertation on the transformations experienced by the long-standing tradition of Islamic law in the context of colonial modernity.