Practical Wisdom and Islam: Reimagining Islamic Law, from the Local to the Global

  • Tom Woerner-PowellEmail author
  • Ricca Edmondson


This chapter aims to mitigate the ‘otherness’ often attributed to Islamic law, which is sometimes claimed to be incommensurable with principles in other traditions. It draws on local and global contexts: legal anthropologies in the Middle East and North Africa, and writing on the emerging field of Islamic environmental jurisprudence. Applying the Aristotelian concept of phronesis, practical wisdom, as an interpretive tool in cases such as issuing fatwas, it shows how they appear less alien when we trace the operations of practitioners’ ethical interventions, helping individuals move on from their predicaments in constructive directions. This aims at widening avenues for scholarly analysis of Islamic legal practices, and at using methods of intercultural understanding to assuage a source of avoidable tension between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.


Environmental jurisprudence Fatwa Fiqh Intercultural hermeneutics Islamic law Islamophobia Legal anthropology Phronesis Practical reason Sharia, interpretations of 



Ricca Edmondson is grateful for support in interdisciplinary research at the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, in Spring 2017.


  1. ʿAbd al-Rāziq, ‘A. (1966). Al-Islām wa Uṣūl al-Ḥukm. Beirut: Maktabat al-Ḥayāt.Google Scholar
  2. Abu-Lughod, L. (2013). Do Muslim women need saving? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Adamson, P. (2015). Philosophy in the Islamic world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Agrama, A. (2012). Questioning secularism: Islam, sovereignty, and the rule of law in modern Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Agrama, H. A. (2010). Ethics, tradition, authority: Toward an anthropology of the fatwa. American Ethnologist, 37(1), 2–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Alwishah, A., & Hayes, J. (Eds.). (2015). Aristotle and the Arabic tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ardelt, M. (2003). Empirical assessment of a three-dimensional wisdom scale. Research on Aging, 25(3), 275–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ardelt, M. (2005). How wise people cope with crises and obstacles in life. Revison: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation, 28(1), 7–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Aristotle. (1984a). Nicomachean ethics, The complete works of Aristotle (J. Barnes, Ed., Vol. II, pp. 1729–1867). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Aristotle. (1984b). Rhetoric, The complete works of Aristotle (J. Barnes, Ed., Vol. II, pp. 2152–2269). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Aristotle. (1984c). Politics, The complete works of Aristotle (J. Barnes, Ed., Vol. II, pp. 1986–2129). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Asad, T. (1990). Multiculturalism and British identity in the wake of the Rushdie affair. Politics & Society, 18(4), 455–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Baltes, P. B., & Staudinger, U. M. (2000). Wisdom: A metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence. American Psychologist, 55, 122–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bayrakli, E., & Hafez, F. (Eds.). (2016). European Islamophobia report 2015. Istanbul: SETA.Google Scholar
  16. Calder, N. (2002). ‘Sharīa’ in encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  17. Cicero. (n.d.). De Oratore [The ideal orator] (H. Rackham, Trans., 1977). London: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library.Google Scholar
  18. Clayton, V. P., & Birren, J. E. (1980). The development of wisdom across the life span: A re-examination of an ancient topic. In P. B. Baltes & O. G. Brim (Eds.), Life-span development and behavior (Vol. 3, pp. 103–135). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  19. Curnow, T. (2006). Ancient philosophy and everyday life. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press.Google Scholar
  20. Dewey, J. (1924). Logical method and law. Cornell Law Quarterly, 10, 17–27.Google Scholar
  21. Edmondson, R. (2005). Wisdom in later life: Ethnographic approaches. Ageing in Society, 25(3), 339–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Edmondson, R. (2013). A social interpretation of personal wisdom. In M. Ferrari & N. Weststrate (Eds.), The scientific study of personal wisdom: From contemplative traditions to neuroscience (pp. 191–209). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Edmondson, R. (2015). Ageing, insight and wisdom: Meaning and practice across the life course. Bristol: Policy Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Edmondson, R., Pearce, J., & Woerner, M. (2009). When wisdom is called for in clinical reasoning (W. Stempsey, Ed.). Special Issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 30, 231–247.Google Scholar
  25. Edmondson, R., & Woerner, M. (2019). Socio-cultural foundations of wisdom. In R. J. Sternberg & J. Glück (Eds.), Handbook of wisdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Elahi, F., & Kahn, O. (Eds.). (2017). Islamophobia: Still a challenge to us all (pp. 140–159). London: Runnymede/London School of Economics.Google Scholar
  27. Ferrari, M., Kahn, A., Benayon, M., & Nero, J. (2011). Developing wisdom in Islam and Judaism: Two views of Sophia and phronesis. Research in Human Development, 8(2), 128–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Flyvbjerg, B. (2015). Aristotle, Foucault and progressive phronesis: Outline of an applied ethics for sustainable development. In A. Madanipour (Ed.), Planning theory (Vol. 3, pp. 340–354). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Foltz, R. C. (2003). Islamic environmentalism: A matter of interpretation. In R. C. Foltz, F. M. Denny, & A. Baharuddin (Eds.), Islam and ecology: A bestowed trust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press for the Centre of World Religions Harvard Divinity School.Google Scholar
  30. Foucault, M. (1990). The care of the self—A history of sexuality (R. Hurley, Trans., Vol. 3). London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  31. Gade, A. M. (2015). Islamic law and the environment in Indonesia: Fatwa and Daʿwa. Worldviews, 19(2015), 161–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gawande, A. (2014). Being mortal: Illness, medicine and what matters in the end. London: Profile Books.Google Scholar
  33. Glück, J., & Bluck, S. (2011). Laypeople’s conceptions of wisdom and its development: Cognitive and integrative views. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66(3), 321–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goldziher, I. (1981). Introduction to Islamic theology (A. Hamori & R. Hamori, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Green, T. (2015). The fear of Islam: An introduction to Islamophobia in the West. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grossmann, I. (2017). Wisdom in context. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(2), 233–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hallaq, W. (1984, March). Was the gate of Ijtihad closed? International Journal of Middle East Studies, 16(1), 3–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hallaq, W. (1994). From fatwās to furūʿ: Growth and change in Islamic substantive law. Islamic Law and Society, 1(1), 29–65.Google Scholar
  39. Hallaq, W. (1997). A history of Islamic legal theories: An introduction to Sunnī Uṣūl al-Fiqh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Heath, A., Li, H., & Woerner-Powell, T. (2015). Trapped in poverty? A study of transient and persistent factors for Muslim disadvantages in the UK. Comparative Islamic Studies, 11(2), 205–233.Google Scholar
  41. Huntington, S. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  42. Islam, M. S. (2012). Old philosophy, new movement: The rise of the Islamic ecological paradigm in the discourse of environmentalism. Nature and Culture, 7(1), 72–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jenkins, W. (2005). Islamic law and environmental ethics: How jurisprudence (uṣūl al-fiqh) mobilises practical reform. Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, 10(1), 338–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Al-Juwaynī, Imām al-Ḥaramayn, Abū Maʿālī ʿAbd al-Mālik ibn ʿAbd Allāh. (n.d.). Al-Burhān fī Uṣūl al-Dīn (Manuscript No. 25875). Cairo: Dār al-Kutub.Google Scholar
  45. Karamustapha, A. (2006). God’s unruly friends. Oxford: Oneworld.Google Scholar
  46. Kunzmann, U., & Baltes, P. (2003). Wisdom-related knowledge: Affective, motivational, and interpersonal correlates. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 1104–1119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Llewellyn, O. A. (2003). The basis for a discipline of Islamic environmental law. In R. C. Foltz, F. M. Denny, & A. Baharuddin (Eds.), Islam and ecology: A bestowed trust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press for the Centre of World Religions Harvard Divinity School.Google Scholar
  48. Marsh, H. (2017). Admissions: A life in brain surgery. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.Google Scholar
  49. Mols, F., Bell, J., & Head, B. (2018). Bridging the research-policy gap: The importance of effective identity leadership and shared commitment. Evidence & Policy.
  50. Moosa, E. (1998, August). Allegory of the rule (Ḥukm): Law as simulacrum in Islam? History of Religions, 38(1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nussbaum, M. (2004). Upheavals of thought: The intelligence of emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Nussbaum, H. (2015). The skill of wisdom depends on the skill of attention. Downloaded September 17, 2018.
  53. O’Rourke, F. (2012). Aristotle’s political anthropology. In R. Edmondson & K. Hülser (Eds.), Politics of practical reasoning: Integrating action, discourse and argument (pp. 17–38). Lanham, MD: Lexington.Google Scholar
  54. Patten, D. T. (2016). The role of ecological wisdom in managing for sustainable interdependent urban and natural ecosystems. Landscape and Urban Planning, 155, 3–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pemberton, M. (2009). Where does it hurt? What the junior doctor did next. London: Hodder and Stoughton.Google Scholar
  56. Rachman, G. (2017, February 13). Trump, Islam and the clash of civilisations. Financial Times. Accessed August 20, 2018.
  57. Rahman, F. (1971). The functional interdependence of law and theology. In G. E. von Grunebaum (Ed.), Theology and law in Islam (pp. 89–97). Wiesbaden: Steiner.Google Scholar
  58. Reinhart, A. K. (1983). Islamic law as Islamic ethics. Journal of Religious Ethics, 11(2), 186–203.Google Scholar
  59. Reinhart, A. K. (1993). Transcendence and social practice: Muftis and qadis as religious interpreters. Annales Islamologiques, 27, 5–28.Google Scholar
  60. Rosen, L. (1989). The anthropology of justice—Law as culture in Islamic society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
  62. Said, E. (1997). Covering Islam: How the media and the experts determine how we see the rest of the world. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  63. Schacht, J. (1964). An introduction to Islamic law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  64. Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. (2010). Practical wisdom: The right way to do the right thing. New York: Riverhead.Google Scholar
  65. Al-Shāfʿī, M. I. (1979). Al-Risālah (A. H. Shākir). Cairo: Maktabat Dār al-Turāth.Google Scholar
  66. Sloan, M. C. (2010). Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as the original Locus for the Septem Circumstantiae. Classical Philology, 105(3), 236–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Smith, A. (1790). The theory of moral sentiments (D. D. Raphael & A. L. MacFie, Eds., 1976). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Smith, W. C. (1981). On understanding Islam: Selected studies. The Hague: Mouton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Staudinger, U. M. (1999). Older and wiser? Integrating results on the relationship between wisdom and age-related performance. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 23, 641–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Staudinger, U. M., & Glück, J. (2011). Psychological wisdom research: Commonalities and differences in a growing field. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 215–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sternberg, R. S. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology, 2, 347–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sternberg, R. S. (2005). Older but not wiser? The relationship between age and wisdom. Ageing International, 30(1), 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Steuden, S., Brudek, P., & Izdebski, P. (2016). A Polish adaptation of Monika Ardelt’s three-dimensional wisdom scale (3D-WS). Rocnzniki Psychologiczne/Annals of Psychology, XIC(4), 769–792.Google Scholar
  74. Subramanian, S. (2018). One man’s (very polite) fight against media Islamophobia. Guardian. Downloaded October 18, 2018.
  75. Ṭaha, M. M. (1987). The second message of Islam (A. A. An-Naim, Trans.). New York: Syracuse University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Tyan, E.. & Walsh, J. R. (2012). Encyclopaedia of Islam (P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, & W. P. Heinrichs (Eds.), 2nd ed.). Consulted online on November 7, 2018.
  77. Van Ess, J. (2006). The flowering of Muslim theology (J. M. Todd). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Woerner, M. H. (1990). Das Ethische in der Rhetorik des Aristoteles. Freiburg/Br: Alber Verlag.Google Scholar
  79. Woerner-Powell, T. (2017). Another road to Damascus: An integrative approach to ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Xiang, W. (2016). Ecophronesis: The ecological practical wisdom for and from ecological practice. Landscape and Urban Planning, 155, 53–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of Political Science and SociologyNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland

Personalised recommendations