Consensus and Early Islamic Law

Miranda Schonbrun

Consensus and Early Islamic Law

April 12, 2022 / 5:00 pm / Add to Google

This hybrid event will be held in person in 3335 Dwinelle Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. Physical attendance will be limited. The event will also be available online via Zoom. Registration is required here

Asad Q. Ahmed, Professor; Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Dept of Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures

This lecture investigates democratic approaches to legal formulations in Islam from the perspective of the principle of consensus. Accepted as having probative force in practically all Islamic legal traditions, the principle is often understood in pre-modern and modern literature as a means of establishing positive law by appeal to the customary practices in a region and/or the shared legal opinions of a generation of scholars. As such, it also emerges as a vehicle for establishing and perpetuating normative practices and for narrowing the scope for legal change. The intricacies of theoretical reflections on consensus—as opposed to its practical legal applications—reveal a rather different perspective. In the Islamic legal-theoretical tradition, consensus can be read as an agreement on a shared hypothetical system of argumentation. Inasmuch as each legal tradition within Islam has a consensus on the hypothetical validity of each alternative system as an internally consistent set of propositions, it grants the possibility of multiple modes of legal discourse. This lecture explores certain theories of consensus—often dubbed “compound consensus” in the tradition—as democratic grounds for legal disruption.


Asad Q. Ahmed is Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and the Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on early Islamic social history and post-classical Islamic intellectual history. In the latter area, his investigations relate to the history of logic, philosophy, science, and legal theories in Islam. He is the author of The Religious Elite of the Early Islamic Hijaz, Avicenna’s Deliverance: Logic, and Palimpsests of Themselves: Logic and Commentary in Postclassical Muslim South Asia.

Presented by the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation