The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies Seminar hosted Dr. Abdulrahman Helli, Visiting Expert at the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, Research Scholar and Lecturer at the Center for Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt, to present a lecture on "al-Shafi'i in context: from laudatory biography and prosecution to studying texts," on Wednesday, February 5, 2020.
Dr. Helli began his presentation by highlighting the centrality of the personality of al-Shafi'i in Islamic history, and the continuing debate over the impact of his works upon Islamic thought in general and on Islamic fiqh, jurisprudence, in particular. The scholar reviewed the most prominent approaches to al-Shafi'i's personality and works, namely laudatory manāqib as an offshoot of heritage or turāth works, and 'prosecutorial' hearings holding al-Shafi'i responsible for the present state of Islamic thought, and calling for a break with the turāth, while yet other approaches have tended to approach al-Shafi'i from specific epistemological angles.
Dr. Helli, for his part, recommended another approach to al-Shafi'i's personality based on a comparative analysis of texts, towards understanding the historical context of his textual production, and to examine his approach as it can be gleaned from his works themselves, rather than from any subsequent development attributed, with or without reason, to him.
The scholar then spotlighted three issues emerging from al-Shafi'i's texts, namely: his position on differences of opinion in fiqh/jurisprudence; his theorizing and application of this theorizing in considering the contexts of texts to better understand them; and his position on jihad in light of his worldview gleaned from his texts. The scholar suggested that going beyond al-Shafi'i can best be done based upon al-Shafi'i's method itself – and not by breaking from it in defiance.
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