Mairaj Syed

Coercion and Responsibility in Islam

A Study in Ethics and Law

Oxford University Press 2017

New Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in LawNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network September 19, 2017 Kristian Petersen

Within a few generations after the death of Muhammad Muslims developed complex legal and theological traditions that shaped the boundaries of what was deemed...

Within a few generations after the death of Muhammad Muslims developed complex legal and theological traditions that shaped the boundaries of what was deemed Islamic. In Coercion and Responsibility in Islam: A Study in Ethics and Law (Oxford University Press, 2017), Mairaj Syed, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at University of California, Davis, examines how the constraints of interpretive traditions were tested under questions of coercion. He demonstrates that very often theological and legal reasoning moves beyond our expectations and interpretive conclusions are contradictory within seemingly uniform schools. He shows how members of the Mu’tazila and Ashari schools of theology determine the legal and moral responsibility of individuals who have been pressured to say or do something under coercive conditions. He also explores Hanafi and Shafi’i legal definitions of coercion and the various types of reasoning principles for drawing what is licit. These conundrums are hashed out through hypothetical coerced speech acts, such as proclamations of divorce, sale transactions, or legal acknowledgement, and coerced harm, as in rape or homicide.

In our conversation we discuss moral agency, the formative period of legal and theological traditions, conventional presumptions about these legal and theological schools, how tradition works, interpretive ambiguity within schools of thought, various instances of coercion, wrestling with the vast amount of hadith literature, and the fashioning of interpretive norms.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is the author of Interpreting Islam in China: Pilgrimage, Scripture, and Language in the Han Kitab (Oxford University Press, 2017). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims, and is the editor of the forthcoming volumes Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (ILEX Foundation) and New Approaches to Islam in Film (Routledge). You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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