Interpreting the Qur’an and the Constitution: Similarities in the Use of Text, Tradition, and Reason in Islamic and American Jurisprudence

By: Asifa Quraishi-Landes

Can interpreting the Qur’an be anything like interpreting the Constitution? These documents are usually seen to represent overwhelming opposites in our global legal and cultural landscapes. How, after all, can there be any room for comparison between a legal system founded on revelation and one based on a man-made document? What this premise overlooks, however, is that the nature of the founding legal text tells only the beginning of the story. With some comparative study of the legal cultures that formed around the Qur’an and the Constitution, a few common themes start to emerge, and ultimately it turns out that there may be as much the same as is different between the jurisprudence of Islam and the United States. Though set against very different cultures and legal institutions, jurists within Islamic law have engaged in debates over legal interpretation that bear a striking resemblance to debates in the world of American constitutional theory. We will here set these debates next to each other, illustrating some important similarities between the two legal cultures clearly visible despite their differences.

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