Ahmed El Shamsy
- Harvard University
From al-Shafi’i to Shafi’ism: The Origins and Early Development of the Shafi’i School of Law in Ninth-Century Egypt
Since the ninth century C.E., the four orthodox schools of Sunni Islamic legal thought have exerted immense influence over the individual interpretive efforts of Muslim scholars. The present research explains how these institutions achieved such hegemonic authority through an investigation of the as yet largely unexplored question of the schools' historical origins. By reconstructing the socio-political, textual, and intellectual history the Shafi'i school of law in the first century of its existence, this study provides the first detailed account of how the authority of these powerful institutions was constructed and justified, and why the cultural phenomenon of the schools emerged at this particular moment in Islamic history.
The Construction and Perpetuation of Authority in Classical Islamic Law
This project investigates the emergence and longevity of the four orthodox schools of Sunni Islamic law by examining the role played by legal maxims—succinctly phrased general principles—in the construction of the schools’ authority. The project is framed by the following key hypotheses: (1) the development of legal maxims by medieval Muslim jurists inaugurated a “meta-discourse” about the fundamental nature of the sacred law; (2) the use of maxims in jurisprudence permitted the transformation of a collection of disparate legal rulings into the structured, internally consistent canon constitutive of each legal school; (3) this harmonization of each school’s juristic output enabled the consolidation of the four schools as stable, authoritative institutions.