This essay explores the relationship between moral epistemology and legal theory in Islamic thought. Reviewing selected works of Khomeini, Maududi, and Qutb, I show that Islamism, drawing upon certain currents of Muslim intellectual tradition, presupposes a rejection of moral rationalism and on that basis opposes the permanent alteration of explicit divine injunctions. Next, I argue that the unwillingness of ‘Abduh, Iqbal, and Soroush to articulate a consistent moral rationalism prevents these reformists from offering a tenable theoretical alternative to Islamist legalism. I subsequently consider the moral epistemology of classical Mu‘tazili scholar ‘Abd al-Jabbar in order to show how a robust moral rationalism justifies the prudential revision of divine law. On that basis, I suggest that moral rationalism is the necessary epistemic basis of any legal theory that stands as a clear alternative to Islamism while still remaining grounded in the most fundamental tenets of Muslim piety.
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