What is it about?

Islamic Legal Riddles are an important genre of Islamic law. Muslim legal scholars wrote these riddles to test their students, entertain one another, and derive new legal rulings. This article explores these interrelated functions of riddles, as well as the emergence of the genre in the 14th Century AD. The article shows that Muslim scholars used their imaginations and drew on literary genres to derive new ways of writing about Islamic law.

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Why is it important?

Islamic law is sometimes stereotyped as a dry and always serious mode of discourse. This article shows that Islamic legal writing could be playful, funny, and entertaining. It is also important to note that Islamic legal discourses were drew from imaginative "literary" genres (adab) for their inspiration.


I hope this article encourages people to think beyond their own subfields and to explore the intertwining, cross-pollinating discourses in pre-modern Arabic. I also hope that people enjoy some of the humor in these riddles. It was a great pleasure to write the article and to have the help of excellent colleagues who are acknowledged in a paragraph at the end of the article.

Matthew Keegan

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This page is a summary of: Levity Makes the Law: Islamic Legal Riddles, Islamic Law and Society, August 2020, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15685195-00260a10.
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