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Islam, Law and Modernity


New publication on Shi'a approaches to Shari'ah and moral rationalism by ILM member Dr Ali-reza Bhojani

(13 May 2015)

Moral Rationalism and Sharīʿa - Independent Rationality in Modern Shīʿī Uṣūl al-Fiqh


Ali-reza Bhojani

Routledge - 2015- 180 pages 

Series: Culture and Civilization in the Middle East

Moral Rationalism and Shari'a is the first attempt at outlining the scope for a theological reading of Shari'a, based on a critical examination of why 'Adliyya theological ethics have not significantly impacted Shi'i readings of Shari'a.

Within Shi'i works of Shari 'a legal theory (usul al-fiqh) there is a theoretical space for reason as an independent source of normativity alongside the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. The position holds that humans are capable of understanding moral values independently of revelation. Describing themselves as 'Adliyya (literally the people of Justice), this allows the Shi 'a, who describe themselves as 'Adliyya, to attribute a substantive rational conception of justice to God, both in terms of His actions and His regulative instructions. Despite the Shi'i adoption of this moral rationalism, independent judgments of rational morality play little or no role in the actual inference of Shari 'a norms within mainstream contemporary Shi'i thought.

Through a close examination of the notion of independent rationality as a source in modern Shi'i usul al-fiqh, the obstacles preventing this moral rationalism from impacting the understanding ofShari 'a are shown to be purely epistemic. In line with the ‘emic’ (insider) approach adopted, these epistemic obstacles are revisited identifying the scope for allowing a reading of Shari'athat is consistent with the fundamental moral rationalism of Shi'i thought. It is argued that judgments of rational morality, even when not definitively certain, cannot be ignored in the face of the apparent meaning of texts that are themselves also not certain. An 'Adliyya reading of Shari'a demands that the strength of independent rational evidence be reconciled against the strength of any other apparently conflicting evidence, such that independent judgments of rational morality act as a condition for the validity of precepts attributed to a just and moral God.

Ali-Reza Bhojani is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham. His research interests include Islamic legal theory, Muslim theology and ethics, Shi'i studies and the Muslim religious responses to modernity.



1 In search of an ʿAdliyya reading of Sharīʿa

2 Reason as a source of Sharīʿa in uṣūl al-fiqh: al-dalīl al-ʿaqlī 

3 The intelligibility of moral values in the history of Shīʿī theological thought

4 The nature of morality, rationality and independent judgements of rational morality in modern Shīʿī uṣūl al-fiqh

5 The authoritativeness of sources of Sharīʿa knowledge and the ḥujjiyya of al-ʿaql

6 Reassessing the obstacles to the impact of independent rationality 

7 Towards an ʿAdliyya reading of Sharīʿa