Islam and Literalism

Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory

Robert Gleave
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Islam and Literalism
    Book Description:

    Traces the emergence and development of the idea of literal meaning in Islamic legal hermeneuticsIn this reading of Islamic legal hermeneutics, Robert Gleave explores various competing notions of literal meaning, linked to both theological doctrine and historical developments, together with insights from modern semantic and pragmatic philosophers. Literal meaning is what a text means in itself, regardless of what its author intends to convey or the reader understands to be its message. As Islamic law is based on the central texts of Islam, the idea of a literal meaning that rules over human attempts to understand God’s message has resulted in a series of debates amongst modern Muslim legal theorists. Key FeaturesFocuses on Islamic legal writings, with reference to Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) and Arabic rhetorical worksDescribes Muslim debates through the lens of modern Western linguistic philosophy, opening the topic up for Western scholars

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3113-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-x)

    The aim of this book is to trace the emergence and development of the simple but compelling idea of literal meaning in Islamic legal hermeneutics. The concept of literal meaning I am using here is derived from the distinction found in modern linguistic philosophy between “what is said” and “what is meant”, which is a vernacular and approximate distinction between the subject matter of semantics and pragmatics. The literal meaning is the meaning a text or statement has irrespective of what the author intends to convey or an audience (including professional exegetes) understands to be its message. Of course, the...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Understanding Literal Meaning
    (pp. 1-25)

    In any dispute over the meaning of a text, something called the “literal meaning” of the text invariably crops up in the argument. The parties may agree to reject the literal meaning in favour of a metaphorical or figurative meaning (and then argue over which non-literal meaning is the meaning of the text). Others may argue for the literal meaning, to the exclusion of all non-literal meanings. Yet others may argue that the text can have multiple meanings – amongst which could be both literal and non-literal. Whichever stance the disputants adopt, they share a belief in the existence of a...

  6. 2 Literal Meaning, Hermeneutics and Islamic Legal Theory
    (pp. 26-62)

    Belief in the “literal meaning”, as the term is used in this book, involves the possibly romantic notion that, barring cases of pure homonymity, words (as sounds or “vocables”) have singular primary meanings. Regardless of how these primary meanings were acquired, a word/sound and its associated meaning form a very strong, individual relationship. When words are put together into sentences, and then expressed as utterances (that is, they become oral or written texts, the latter being records of the utterance), these composite entities also have a primary meaning, formed from the individual meaning of each word/sound (lexis) combined with fixed...

  7. 3 The Emergence of Literal Meaning in Early Islamic Thought
    (pp. 63-93)

    The development of the literal meaning in early Islamic thought can be traced to the belief (implicit in some Muslim discussions, explicit in others) that, once established, meaning is intimately connected to an assigned sound. The Arabic verb often used to describe this relationship is taʿalluq – to cling to, or be attached to something. In classical legal theory, the literal meaning is a meaning the utterance/text has which may have been arbitrarily assigned originally but, once assigned, is present in the text, even when the author’s intended meaning is something quite different. In early Islamic thought, this conception of the...

  8. 4 Literal Meaning in Early Islamic Legal Theory
    (pp. 94-125)

    Presenting a description of the early development of Muslim jurisprudence is both potentially controversial and historically problematic. It is not necessarily germane to my purpose here to rehearse the arguments which have dominated the field of early Islamic legal studies.¹ It is important to note, however, that prior to the writings of al-ShāfiÝʿī, there is very little evidence of any explicit interest in legal theory. By this I mean that the extant texts of early Islamic jurisprudence contain many references to and refutations of the opinions of the great scholars of the early period, but there is little discernible systematic...

  9. 5 Early Shiʿi Conceptions of Literal Meaning
    (pp. 126-145)

    The famous Arabic lexicographer Ibn Durayd (d. 321/933) wrote a wonderful book of Arabic homonyms entitled Kitāb al-Malāḥin. He wrote it “so that one who is forced, unjustly, to make a vow which is repugnant to him might take refuge in [the book] … he can secretly [vow] something different to what he outwardly says so as to stay safe from the wrongs of the oppressor”.¹ In the book he provides words which have more than one meaning, and which the individual forced to make a vow can use intending one thing, whilst the oppressor understands another. The meaning which...

  10. 6 Zahirism, Literalism and Ibn Ḥazm
    (pp. 146-174)

    As we have seen, in modern linguistic philosophy “literalism” refers to the belief that statements have meaning distinct from both the intended meaning of the one making the statement, and the meaning understood by the hearer. It is a statement’s meaning which requires no “mind-reading” abilities to be acquired and understood¹ but instead is dictated by a linguistic system. In this sense, much of the language theory of the classical Uṣūlīs was “literalist”, in that the notion of waḍʿ as a language system forced a meaning on an utterance which the statement then “owned”. Yunis Ali has usefully described what...

  11. 7 Literal Meaning in Modern Muslim Legal Theory: Two Examples
    (pp. 175-196)

    A number of commentators have identified a shift towards (so-called) “literalism” in modern Islamic thought.¹ The term is often used loosely and without precision, and this modern trend is contrasted with the acceptance of diversity which characterised most “classical” Muslim theological and legal thinking.² It could well be that there is something particularly modern in the understandable need to root religious expression in a meaning viewed as “inherent” within revered texts. The tendency is undoubtedly linked to a dissatisfaction with the perceived relativism built into the system of inter-madhhab acceptance, and the guarded assertions of the classical jurists that they...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-208)
  13. Index
    (pp. 209-212)