Professor Robert Gleave, Principal Investigator

Robert Gleave is a Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter and Director for the Centre for the Study of Islam. His research and teaching focus on the history of Islamic law, particularly in the areas of legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh), Shīʿī thought and law and the justifications of violence in Islamic thought. 

Professor Gleave’s primary research interests include:  Hermeneutics and Scriptural Exegesis in Islam; Islamic Law, in particular works of Islamic legal theory (usul al-fiqh); Violence and its justification in Islamic thought and Shi’ism, in particular Shi’i legal and political theory.

LAWALISI Research Fellows:

Dr Kumail Rajani, LAWALISI Research Fellow

My study within the LAWALISI project focuses on the post-Akhbārī Imami Shiʿite jurisprudence from 1772 to 1850 and its impact on the educational institutions of Najaf and Qum in the subsequent years.   The year 1772 marks the death of Yūsuf al-Baḥrānī and a large number of other Akhbārī scholars which allowed the Uṣūlīs to suppress the Akhbārī movement hitherto dominated the Imami circles since the beginning of the 11th/17th century. This mission led by al-Waḥīd al-Bihbihānī (d. c. 1205/1791) revitalized and revamped the analytical (ijtihādī) approach to the law practiced by the Imami scholars since 4th/10th century. The preliminary investigation reveals that this phase witnessed an extensive usage of innovative tools such as madhāq al-sharʿ (nuance of the sharīʿa, lit. taste of the sharīʿa), tanqīḥ al-manāṭ (extraction of the criterion from a given tradition), and an eclectic mix of hermeneutical and procedural principles (al-uṣūl al-ʿamaliyya) in the process of interpreting the law. It is detailing this approach of Uṣūlīs towards fiqh that this study is primarily concerned. I also propose to investigate the contextual factors that contributed to the reconstruction and refinement of the Imami jurisprudence during this period. Firstly, the Uṣūlīs felt compelled to define the contours of their legal doctrines in this period of the rehabilitation of analytical fiqh. Secondly, the Imami scholars who enjoyed the patronage of the Safavids (907-1135/1502-1722) will now have to operate through an independent network of ʿulamāʾ and the Imami populace. This change of style was momentous, for it led to transfer the ‘office’ of a ‘mujtahid’ capable of reaching a legal opinion into an ‘institution’ of a ‘marjaʿ’, responsible, effectively, to lead the Imami communities in various socio-religious affairs. Scholarly material and law manuals were developed in tandem, and this study offers an explanation for how we can interpret this shift in the light of the aforementioned contextual factors.

Dr Omar Anchassi, LAWALISI Research Fellow

Dr Anchassi worked on the LAWALISI project in its final year, and contributed to the Twelver Usul Bibliography project, alongside his research on slavery and Islamic law and co-editing (with Robert Gleave), Islamic Law in Context forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Dr Pooya Razavian, LAWALISI Research Fellow

Dr Razavian worked on the Twelver Usul Bibliography project and designed the technical infrastructure of the database and adapted the database software to suit the needs of the project. 

Dr Raha Rafii, LAWALISI Research Fellow

My LAWALISI project expands on my dissertation research on the development of the adab al-qāḍī legal genre among Twelver and Shāfiʿite jurists of the 11th to 14th centuries CE. It will build on my previous research’s comparative approach to analyze how Safavid-era and post-Safavid developments in Twelver jurisprudence affected reference to and integration of Sunnī sources, particularly in regard to 16th-century Twelver jurist al-Shahīd al-Thānī and the later Akhbārī movement. While historical Twelver participation in Sunnī legal education has either been generally dismissed or explained away as taqiyya, my goal is to interrogate how such interaction actually functioned beyond simple appropriation or dissimulation. By expanding the temporal scope of my research through the LAWALISI project, I also plan on incorporating an additional methodological element to my research by examining the impact of late classical Twelver characterizations of this phenomenon on contemporary academic scholarship on medieval Twelver jurisprudence.


Dr Amin Ehteshami, LAWALISI Research Fellow (2019-2020), now Postdoctoral Research Fellow Humboldt University, Berlin

My research for the LAWALISI project consists of an inquiry into Shiʿi jurisprudence, focusing on Fayḍ Kāshānī (1598–1680) as its central figure, 1500–1700 as its period of interest, and theories of hadith authenticity as its main theme. I received my doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley (2019) where I wrote a dissertation on Fayḍ’s hadith compendium entitled al-Wā. I investigated al-Wāfī’s structure and content, sources and influences, and Fayḍ’s method of hadith compilation and interpretation. I contextualised al-Wā within Fayḍ’s writing oeuvre as well as the wider Safavid hadith discourse. This involved a study of the emergence of the Four Books as the pivot of discussions on hadith authenticity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A part of my research aim for the LAWALISI project is to further refine and expand the scope of my dissertation to include an analysis of a number of Fayḍ’s legal rulings and examine how they compare to the jurisprudential principles and methods of hadith authenticity that he articulates in his writings. In investigating how the disciplines of jurisprudence, hadith, and exegesis were envisioned by one of its leading practitioners, this study also opens a vista onto the panorama of exegetical practices and theories of hadith authenticity that have continued to shape Shiʿi thought to the present.

Dr Cameron Zargar, LAWALISI Research Fellow

My work for the LAWALISI project concerns the role taqlīd plays in the identity formation of Twelver Shī‘īs. I am currently developing two articles related to this theme. The first, “The Marāji‘ as Prototypes,” demonstrates that these jurists do not have any sort of discernable spiritual authority and instead function as symbolic figureheads of Twelver Shī‘ism. My fieldwork in Iran establishes that the followers (muqallids) of the marāji‘ do not pursue them or revere them for their particular attributes but rather impose upon them predetermined prototypes that are derived from religious tradition and Iranian culture. This acknowledges that the marāji‘ may provide idealized visions and be looked to at critical junctures related to the identity of Twelver Shī‘is. However, in everyday affairs, it is local religious leaders who actually shape the behaviors and ethics of lay people. My second article, “Taqlīd as Identity,” argues that it is more appropriate to frame the impact the marāji‘ have on the lives of their followers as identity formation than it is to frame it as legal authority. My fieldwork reveals a disparity between professed attachment to a marja‘ and actual legal reference. Furthermore, muqallids who did not actually seek legal opinions from the marāji‘ considered the position of those who do not have a marja‘ to be problematic. In other words, nominal attachment to the marja‘ – and not actual legal reference – serves the primary functions of taqlīd, which are to complete one’s faith and distinguish one from non-muqallids.

Dr Paul Gledhill, LAWALISI Research Fellow (2016 – 2019)

My work for the LAWALISI project centres on the historical intersection of the Sunni and Shīʿite legal traditions. It represents a response to a particular postulate concerning the origins of Shīʿite law, a postulate that locates a legal koine for the respective traditions in mid-8th-century Kufa. Positing that it was in this context that the Shīʿah, theretofore distinguished from their Sunni co-religionists along mainly political and theological lines, most likely began to develop a distinct identity also at the level of law, my research examines the relation of Twelver positive law, as expressed in the dicta ascribed to the Imams in Twelver collections of the late 9th and 10th centuries, to the strains of 8th-century legal thought that might have nourished or given rise to it. Drawing for the latter on evidence external to the Twelver tradition – juristic and prosopographical works from the 8th and early 9th centuries that are typically conceived as attesting proto-Sunnism and remain largely unexplored as sources for the history of early Imāmism – I adopt a comparative approach that seeks to circumvent a certain evidentiary problem in the study of early Twelver law, namely, the chronological gap between the floruits of its main putative sources, the Imams Muḥammad al-Bāqir (d. ca. 733) and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 765), and the compilation from the late 9th century onwards of traditionally authoritative works that purport to record their dicta.

Dr Wissam Halawi, LAWALISI Research Fellow (2016 – 2019), now Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Lausanne, Switzerland 

My research within the LAWALISI project focuses on the “aḥkām al-arbaʿa” or “Four Precepts”, that is the lifting of the ḫums (religious taxes), application of ḥudūd (legal punishment), management of collective Friday prayer and conduct of ǧihād (holy war). While many hadiths associate these legal Precepts a posteriori with the sole prerogative of the living Imam, or even obliquely depict the latter as the lawgiver in these matters; as of the late 10th century, Shi’i scholars attempted to adapt the application of the aḥkām to the new phenomenon of his occultation. Hence, the first books of fiqh elaborate new legal doctrines to discuss the way each of these Precepts should be applied within the Shi’i communities. Baghdadi Shi’i jurists were the early pioneers of this literature in the 11th century, especially al-Šayḫ al-Mufīd (d. 413/1022) and his student al- Šarīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436/1044), and undoubtedly al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067), Šayḫ al-Ṭāʾifa. A thorough analysis of these authors’ legal works allows us, firstly, to find out about the elaboration process of new legal doctrines, the jurists’ personal vision, their use of newly established Shi’i traditions; secondly, it opens a Pandora’s box on social history questions. Were early Shi’i fiqh doctrines, notably that of the Four Precepts, merely theoretical? Did they have any social impacts particularly on Shi’i communities functioning at that time? How in practice did they percolate – if, indeed, they ever did – through political local rules, and therefore what was their relation to other Islamic normative systems, mainly the Sunni one in Baghdad?

Visiting LAWALISI Fellows:

Dr Sejad Mekić, Visiting Fellow (2018 – 2019), now Imam of Cambridge Central Mosque

Dr Mekic’s research for LAWALISI project considers the question of delegating the power of divorce to women within the Shīʿī Imāmī legal tradition and the Ḥanafī madhhab, in the Sunni legal tradition. The primary aim of the research is to identify and select the relevant materials and then critically analyse the most significant of those. Special emphasis would be placed on legal opinions or fatwas of the most prominent scholars within the two legal traditions.

Dr Belal Abou-Alabbas 

Dr Abou-Alabbas worked on the Twelver Usul Bibliography project in the final year of the LAWALISI project, examining the development of the taqrīrāt genre of Shiite uṣūl al-fiqh and conducting comparative studies with Sunni and Ibadi legal theory.

Dr Bianka Speidl

Dr Speidl was a visiting fellow on the project in its final year, examining contemporary Shīʿī legal thinking around environmentalism and the protection of the nature world.

Dr Hassan Al-Beloushi

Dr Al-Beloushi joined the Twelver Usul Bibliography project team as a visiting fellow in 2022 and researched primarily the commentaries on the classics of Shīʿī legal theory in the post-classical period.

Dr George Warner

Dr George Warner was a temporary Research Fellow on the Twelver Usul Bibliography project, carrying out extensive data research and verification on the database content.

Mr Mostafa Movahedifar

Mr Movahedifar was a temporary fellow on LAWALISI’s Twelver Usul Bibliography project, working particularly on the history of print editions of works of Twelver Shīʿī legal theory in the 19th and 20th centuries.