chapter  13
28 Pages

Interface of Science and Jurisprudence: Dissonant Gazes at the Body in Modern Muslim Ethics

ByEbrahim Moosa

In the classical and post-classical periods the discipline of Islamic jurisprudence was relatively in tune with the scientific discourses o f the day. Jurists (juqaha?) who were not averse to the “foreign sciences” (cilm al-awcfil) ably demonstrated in their legal judgm ents that they were familiar with scientific disciplines o f the day such as astronomy, anatomy, alchemy, physics, mathematics, and geometry. The practitioners, namely the jurists, o f the sciences o f jurisprudence (usul al-ftqh), and the science of positive law (fiqh), accepted the working assumptions adopted in the field o f science as a reality and there were rarely any major misfits between the two. On the occasion when there was tension it was often resolved in a creative and amicable manner. Most jurists o f the classical period, for instance, insisted that in determining the lunar calendar, sighting the crescent with the naked eye was preferable in keeping with the report o f the Prophet. A minority o f jurists however declared astronomical calculations to be sufficient and a more accurate determination o f the calendar.1 Thus, the position o f the Shaffi school o f law, while advocating the view in favor o f naked eye sighting, also allows those who know astronomy to follow the certainty of their observations achieved by empirical means. Hence, people who hold such knowledge can actually proceed with the rituals associated with the lunar calendar that was determined by scientific calculations. While it is not my purpose to exhaust the examples o f the interface between science and jurisprudence in the classical period and later, from the single example provided one can

infer that there was some semblance o f epistemic coherence between jurisprudence and science.