The Construction of an Alternative Interpretation of Sacred Texts among Saudi Scholars: A Hermeneutical Jurisprudential Approach
Date: 10 May 2021
University of Exeter
Phd in Arab and Islamic Studies
Interpretation is the art of understanding, and in this thesis, it is specifically the art of understanding the Islamic sacred texts, the Quran and Hadith. This research studies how contemporary Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia have produced new interpretations of the sacred texts, seeking to challenge the dominant religious discourse ...
Interpretation is the art of understanding, and in this thesis, it is specifically the art of understanding the Islamic sacred texts, the Quran and Hadith. This research studies how contemporary Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia have produced new interpretations of the sacred texts, seeking to challenge the dominant religious discourse in their country. Analysing their efforts to manifest the divine intent provides the grounds for understanding their specific practice and pattern of interpretation. A great deal of attention has been paid to political, social, and gender-related topics in contemporary Saudi Arabia, but religion plays an important role in granting legitimacy to rulers and ideas. This research fills a gap by focusing on challenges to the prevailing religious discourse, which is often assumed to be monolithic, in the period from 2001 and 2015. Using a hermeneutic approach, the interpretations were compared to understand how the alternative scholars reread the texts to produce new interpretations that undermine the dominant interpretation. Through textual analysis and semi-structured interviews, three main analytic themes appeared: freedom of religion (al-ḥurriyya al-dīniyya); freedom and political authority (al-ḥurriyya wa al-ḥukm), and freedom and women (taḥrīr al-mar’ah). Whereas the interpretations by prevailing scholars typically restrict people’s freedoms, those of alternative scholars try to expand freedoms, reflecting their tendency towards humanistic hermeneutics. In respect to the hermeneutic approach, the ambiguous nature of sacred texts leaves room for the interpreter to contribute to determining their meaning, and the interpreter inevitably brings some preconceived notions to the task. The study points out the value of understanding the interpretation of the sacred text in Islamic legal discourse. It is hoped that an analysis of the alternative scholars, who in general have not received adequate attention, will stimulate the appetite of academic researchers to explore the scholarly works of similar scholars in different regions of the Muslim world.
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