Visiting Scholars Meeting

The Centre of Islamic Studies held a research meeting for its visiting academics. The afternoon event was an opportunity for new scholars to share their research with staff of the Centre and invited guests.

To view the full programme please click here.


Gharar and Islamic Economics: Case study: the Origins of Salam Contract, Katarzyna Sidlo, University of Warsaw, Poland

Gharar is one of the least known and most misunderstood concepts in Islamic Banking and Finance. Both Islamic scholars of the classical period and contemporary researchers attempted to coin its commonly accepted definition. By far no one has managed to succeed, though. Not only there is not one commonly accepted and accurate translation of the term into English, but its commonly accepted and accurate definition in Arabic is not available either.

The main aim of the paper is not, however, a creation of one, but rather an in-depth analysis and explanation of the prohibition of gharar from the socio-economic perspective. To that end a bai’ salaf/salaf (future sale) will be discussed, as an interesting study case of a contract that should theoretically be prohibited under gharar rules, however has been used in Muslim societies through centuries, and indeed is currently being used in contemporary Islamic financial markets.

The analysis of Quran, Kutub al-Sittah and other prominent collections of hadith and works of Islamic jurisprudence such as Imam Malik’s Muwaṭṭa or ʿAbd ar-Razzaq’s Muṣannaf leads to a working hypothesis to the effect that salaf/salam sale was first encountered by the Prophet and his companions on their arrival to Medina and had not been known in Mecca. Is it however possible that a merchant society such as Mecca’s, with its extensive network of commercial contacts would not had heard about it? Taking a step back and looking into Jewish khalaha, as well as Roman trade laws, the author attempts to answer this question and shed more light on the treatment of gharar prohibition in 7th century Medina.

Trade and Citizenship in Pre-Conflict Aleppo, Dr Paul Anderson

One set of questions posed by the current Syria conflict in its various aspects has to do with citizenship and nationhood. How and why did Baathist regime’s project of nation-building fail? What notions of identity, what forms of collective belonging, have emerged through the conflict and even driven it forward? What kinds of nation-building, and ideas about citizenship, might succeed, and bring stability and justice, in the longer-term? Framing the conflict in this way – as processes of contesting and reformulating notions of nation and citizenship – enables us to move beyond understandings of the conflict as representing a sudden and dramatic rupture with Syria pre-2011. This framing also helps us to avoid seeing the conflict wholly as a reaction to dynamics visited upon the social fabric from the outside: whether through the agendas of foreign players, the actions of transnational jihadis, or the rise of ISIS, important as these are. This paper explores some of the ways in which nationhood, citizenship, and the terms of belonging to society, were already being contested before the outbreak of sustained protests and then violence in 2011.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on Aleppo’s “informal economy” carried out in 2008-09, this paper argues that trading practices of entrustment and reputational accounting served to fashion a space of economic agency but that they can also be understood as the “performative and moral dimensions of citizenship” . This because they defined the meanings and practices of belonging in mercantile society, at a time when Baathist visions of the Syrian nation and of citizenship had become ideologically uncompelling for many. However, mercantile notions of urban citizenship were also exclusionary. Wholesale trade was a site of social differentiation, where some were deemed properly urban and others not, some were admitted to and others were excluded from the benefits of urban citizenship: socioeconomic rights to trade, to use and appropriate space in market alleyways just outside shops, to enter certain shops and cafes, to access credit, to enter marriage alliances, and to access informal justice mechanisms. These are all rights pertaining to urban citizenship. Mercantile discourses and practices of entrustment, accounting and accountability, and civility, did not only structure their economic agency, creating the market as a place where it was possible to buy and sell. They were also central to the contestation of urban citizenship: who had the right to take up social space in the city.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Democratic Vision in Practice 1947-1963., Dara Conduit, Monash University, Australia

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is one of the oldest and best-known Syrian political groups, having played a role in every iteration of Syrian politics since 1945. The group was an active member of the Syrian parliamentary system from 1947 to 1963, but was banned alongside most political parties after the 1963 Baʿth coup. One and a half decades later, the Brotherhood took up arms against the Syrian government, decimating its membership base and sealing its fate as an opposition-in-exile for the next 30 years.  However, the group has re-emerged as a political heavyweight in the current Syrian uprising, and has a very real chance of winning a share of power in a post-war Syrian political system.

Given the group’s potential democratic re-engagement, this paper looks at the Brotherhood’s track record in the Syrian parliament between 1945 and 1963. Was it a fair political player and a committed democrat? Or was its political practice guided by an anti-statist ideology? Was the Brotherhood—at its origins—a democratic movement, as it claims to be? Although decades have passed since Syria’s democratic era, this is an important period because it is the only time that the group has enjoyed political freedom. In addition, its leaders today routinely highlight their desire to return to the ideological path forged by the group at this time, so it is imperative to understand the Brotherhood’s practice in this era.

It is argued that contra to the observations in much of the literature, the Brotherhood demonstrated very little radicalism in its founding decades and posed little threat to the Syrian democratic system. Although this changed later, its behaviour was comparable to the mainstream political parties operating in the Syrian political sphere, and one could go so far as to characterise it as a conservative political actor.

Al-Maturidi and Some of his Theological Opinions, Dr Ma Zhan Ming, Ningxia University, China

Al-maturidi is one of the greatest theologians in the history of Islam who studied and systematised Abu Hanifa’s theological thoughts. Through teaching, writing and debating Abu Hanifa’s work, Al-Maturidi produced remarkable contributions to Islamic theology and defended the Sunni faith. He produced more than ten books in different fields, some of which consist of ten volumes. His work examined main theological issues which caused controversy at the time. This was largely due to his use of opposite faction’s opinions, which he debated and clarified perspectives of Sunni faction. It is worthy to say that Al-maturidi is the first Sunni scholar who proposed the theory of knowledge which is significant for opening people’s mind when they seek knowledge. Al-maturidi’s theological opinions became an important school of Sunni theology which spread widely in the Muslim world and is now followed by many people. Al-maturidi was given several titles, each of which indicates that he was very distinguished in the field of Islamic theology and, furthermore, that he should be considered as the founder of science of Kalam among Sunni Muslims. Unfortunately few few scholars today are aware of Al-maturidi and his contributions and many of his views are misunderstood, often leading to unfair criticisms.