Recommend to your Librarian

Islam and Literalism

Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory

Robert Gleave

Paperback (In stock)
Hardback (In stock)
eBook (ePub) i
eBook (PDF) i

Traces the emergence and development of the idea of literal meaning in Islamic legal hermeneutics

In 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 Features

  • Focuses on Islamic legal writings, with reference to Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) and Arabic rhetorical works
  • Describes Muslim debates through the lens of modern Western linguistic philosophy, opening the topic up for Western scholars


1. Understanding Literal Meaning
2. Literal Meaning and Scriptural Exegesis
3. Literal Meaning In Early Muslim Thought
4. Literal Meaning in Early Muslim Jurisprudence
5. Literal Meaning in Sunni Jurisprudence
6. Legal Literalism and Early Zahiri Legal Thought
7. Literalism and Ibn Íazm’s Legal Theory
8. Literal Meaning in Early Sectarian Legal Theory
9. Literal Meaning in Classical Imami Legal Theory
10. Literal Meaning in Modern Muslim Legal Theory

About the Author

Robert Gleave was Director of the Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence Project 2010-2013, and is Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter. He specializes in Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) and Shīʿī legal thought. His most recent publications include Islam and Literalism: Literal Meaning and Interpretation in Islamic Legal Theory (EUP, 2012)


'Gleave’s close textual analysis, attention to nuance, and theoretical acumen allow for a robust debate about the nature of Islamic legal theory in light of literary theory with the potential to enrich both. This leads to the tantalizing prospect that uṣūl al-fiqh might contribute something important and essential to modern literary theory. Gleave has elevated the discourse about uṣūl al-fiqh, adding theoretical sophistication to studies within and, one hopes, beyond the genre.'

- Rumee Ahmed, Journal of the American Oriental Society

Listing hermeneutic nuances was helpful; specific Qur’anic examples were insightful. The bibliographic technique of key reference followed by full citation was innovative and useful. Lucidly written and well-researched, Islam and Literalism is an invaluable contribution. It is a must read for graduate students and scholars interested in usul al-fiqh.

- Rolin Mainuddin, North Carolina Central University, Middle East Media and Book Reviews