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Usul al-fiqh

(The Roots of Jurisprudence)

Scholarly titles

An ijazah (Arabic: الإِجازَهْ ‎) is a certificate used primarily by Muslims to indicate that one has been authorized by a higher authority to transmit a certain subject or text of Islamic knowledge. This usually implies that the student has learned this knowledge through face-to-face interactions "at the feet" of the teacher.


In a paper titled Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay in Interpretation,[1] Harvard professor William A. Graham explains the ijazah system as follows:

The basic system of "the journey in search of knowledge" that developed early in Hadith scholarship, involved travelling to specific authorities (shaykhs), especially the oldest and most renowned of the day, to hear from their own mouths their hadiths and to obtain their authorization or "permission" (ijazah) to transmit those in their names. This ijazah system of personal rather than institutional certification has served not only for Hadith, but also for transmission of texts of any kind, from history, law, or philology to literature, mysticism, or theology. The isnad of a long manuscript as well as that of a short hadith ideally should reflect the oral, face-to-face, teacher-to-student transmission of the text by the teacher's ijazah, which validates the written text. In a formal, written ijazah, the teacher granting the certificate typically includes an isnad containing his or her scholarly lineage of teachers back to the Prophet through Companions, a later venerable shaykh, or the author of a specific book.


See also: Madrasah

The Ijazah qualification appeared from the 9th century. The first higher education institutions to award an Ijazah in the 9th century, namely the Madrasah, Jami`ah and Bimaristan institutions,[2][3] are thus considered the first colleges, universities and medical schools respectively.[2] According to Guinness Book of World Records , the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco is the oldest degree-granting "university" in the world with its founding in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri,[4] though its founding date as a university was as late as 1947.[5] In addition to Islamic medicine and law, the ijazah was also granted in the Islamic natural sciences.[6]


Main article: Bimaristan
See also: Islamic medicine

During this era, physician licensure became mandatory in the Abbasid Caliphate.[7] In 931 AD, Caliph Al-Muqtadir learned of the death of one of his subjects as a result of a physician's error.[8] He immediately ordered his muhtasib Sinan ibn Thabit to examine and prevent doctors from practicing until they passed an examination.[8][7] From this time on, licensing exams were required and only qualified physicians were allowed to practice medicine.[8][7] According to medical historian Andrew C. Miller:[7]

Consequently, he ordered Sinan ibn Thabit to examine all those who practiced the art of healing. Of the 860 medical practitioners he examined, 160 failed. From that time on, licensing examinations were required and administered in various places. Licensing boards were set up under a government official called Muhtasib, or inspector general. The chief physician gave oral and practical examinations, and if the young physician was successful, the Muhtasib administered the Hippocratic Oath and issued a license to practice medicine.
Many bimaristans also contained medical schools for resident and student education. The ablest physicians—such as Al-Razi (Rhazes), Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar)—were both hospital directors and deans of medical schools. Only Jundi-Shapur and Baghdad had separate schools for teaching the basic sciences. Otherwise, these were taught at the same facility as the clinical instruction. Basic science preparation consisted of lessons from private tutors, self-study and lectures. Anatomy was taught through lectures, illustrations and ape dissections.8 Students also studied medicinal herbs and pharmacognosia. The clinical training was accomplished by assigning small student groups to experienced instructors for ward rounds, discussions, lectures and reviews. Therapeutics and pathology were taught early on. After a period of ward instruction, students were assigned to outpatient areas. The keeping of detailed medical records for every patient was the responsibility of the students, as detailed above.


See also: Sharia and Fiqh

The origins of the medieval doctorate ("licentia docendi") dates back to the ijāzah al-tadrīs wa al-iftā' ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in the medieval Islamic legal education system.[9] In an earlier 1970 investigation into the differences between the Christian university and the Islamic madrasah, Makdisi was of the opinion that the Christian doctorate of the medieval university was the one element in the university that was the most different from the Islamic ijazah certification.[10] Makdisi revised his views significantly and pointed out that the ijazat attadris was, in fact, the origin of the European doctorate, and that it had a significant influence upon the magisterium of the Christian Church.[11] According to the 1989 paper, the ijazat was equivalent to the Doctor of Laws qualification and was developed during the 9th century after the formation of the Madh'hab legal schools. To obtain a doctorate, a student "had to study in a guild school of law, usually four years for the basic undergraduate course" and at least ten years for a post-graduate course. The "doctorate was obtained after an oral examination to determine the originality of the candidate's theses," and to test the student's "ability to defend them against all objections, in disputations set up for the purpose" which were scholarly exercises practiced throughout the student's "career as a graduate student of law." After students completed their post-graduate education, they were awarded doctorates giving them the status of faqih (meaning "master of law"), mufti (meaning "professor of legal opinions") and mudarris (meaning "teacher"), which were later translated into Latin as magister, professor and doctor respectively.[9]

Madrasas mainly issued the ijazat attadris in the field of Islamic religious law, Sharia.[12] Other academic subjects, including the natural sciences, philosophy and literary studies, were treated as ancillary to the study of the Sharia.[13] The Islamic law degree in Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious madrasa, was traditionally granted on the basis of the students' attentive attendance to courses and their proficiency in the field.[14] However, the postgraduate doctorate in law was only obtained after "an oral examination."[15] In a 1999 paper, Makdisi points out that, in much the same way granting the ijazah degree was in the hands of professors, the same was true for the early period of the University of Bologna, where degrees were originally granted by professors.[16] He also points out that, much like how the ijazat attadris was originally confined to law, the first degrees at Bologna were also originally confined to law, before later extending to other subjects.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. Graham, William A. (Winter, 1993). "Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay in Interpretation". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23 (3): 495–522. MIT Press. doi:10.2307/206100. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Alatas, Syed Farid (2006), "From Jami`ah to University: Multiculturalism and Christian–Muslim Dialogue", Current Sociology 54 (1): 112–32, Error: Bad DOI specified
  3. Imamuddin, S. M. (1981), Muslim Spain 711–1492 A.D., Brill Publishers, p. 169, ISBN 9004061312
  4. The Guinness Book Of Records, 1998, p. 242, ISBN 0-5535-7895-2
  5. Kevin Shillington: "Encyclopedia of African history", Vol. 1, New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2005, ISBN 1579582451, p.1025
  6. Toby Huff, Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, 2nd ed., Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0-521-52994-8, p. 78
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Miller, Andrew C (December 2006). "Jundi-Shapur, bimaristans, and the rise of academic medical centres", Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, pp. 615–617. [unreliable source?]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Shanks, Nigel J.; Dawshe, Al-Kalai (January 1984). "Arabian medicine in the Middle Ages". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 77 (1): 60–65. PMID 6366229. PMC:1439563. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Makdisi, George (April–June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77], Error: Bad DOI specified
  10. George Makdisi: "Madrasa and University in the Middle Ages", Studia Islamica, No. 32 (1970), pp. 255–264 (260): "Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the two systems is embodied in their systems of certification; namely, in medieval Europe, the licentia docendi, or license to teach; in medieval Islam, the ijaza, or authorization. In Europe, the license to teach was a license to teach a certain field of knowledge. It was conferred by the licensed masters acting as a corporation, with the consent of a Church authority, in Paris, by the Chancellor of the Cathedral Chapter... Certification in the Muslim East remained a personal matter between the master and the student. The master conferred it on an individual for a particular work, or works. Qualification, in the strict sense of the word, was supposed to be a criterion, but it was at the full discretion of the master, since, if he chose, he could give an ijaza to children hardly able to read, or even to unborn children. This was surely an abuse of the system...but no official system was involved. The ijaza was a personal matter, the sole prerogative of the person bestowing it; no one could force him to give one."
  11. Makdisi, George (April–June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77], Error: Bad DOI specified, "I hope to show how the Islamic doctorate had its influence on Western scholarship, as well as on the Christian religion, creating there a problem still with us today. [...] As you know, the term doctorate comes from the Latin docere, meaning to teach; and the term for this academic degree in medieval Latin was licentia docendi, "the license to teach." This term is the word for word translation of the original Arabic term, ijazat attadris. In the classical period of Islam's system of education, these two words were only part of the term; the full term included wa I-ifttd, meaning, in addition to the license to teach, a "license to issue legal opinions." [...] The doctorate came into existence after the ninth century Inquisition in Islam. It had not existed before, in Islam or anywhere else. [...] But the influence of the Islamic doctorate extended well beyond the scholarly culture of the university system. Through that very system it modified the millennial magisterium of the Christian Church. [...] Just as Greek non-theistic thought was an intrusive element in Islam, the individualistic Islamic doctorate, originally created to provide machinery for the Traditionalist determination of Islamic orthodoxy, proved to be an intrusive element in hierarchical Christianity. In classical Islam the doctorate consisted of two main constituent elements: (I) competence, i.e., knowledge and skill as a scholar of the law; and (2) authority, i.e., the exclusive and autonomous right, the jurisdictional authority, to issue opinions having the value of orthodoxy, an authority known in the Christian Church as the magisterium. [...] For both systems of education, in classical Islam and the Christian West, the doctorate was the end-product of the school exercise, with this difference, however, that whereas in the Western system the doctorate at first merely meant competence, in Islam it meant also the jurisdictional magisterium."
  12. Makdisi, George (April–June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 [176], Error: Bad DOI specified, "To obtain a doctorate, one had to study in a guild school of law."
  13. Pedersen, J.; Rahman, Munibur; Hillenbrand, R. "Madrasa." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010, retrieved 20/03/2010: "Madrasa, mediaeval usage, essentially a college of law in which the other Islamic sciences, including literary and philosophical ones, were ancillary subjects only."
  14. Jomier, J. "al- Azhar (al-Ḏj̲āmiʿ al-Azhar)." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010: "Many of the students were well advanced in years. Those who left al-Azhar obtained an idjāza or licence to teach; this was a certificate given by the teacher under whom the student had followed courses, testifying to the student's diligence and proficiency."
  15. Makdisi, George (April–June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (2): 175–182 (176)
  16. George Makdisi (1999), "Religion and Culture in Classical Islam and the Christian West", in Richard G. Hovannisian & Georges Sabagh, Religion and culture in medieval Islam, Cambridge University Press, pp. 3–23 [10], ISBN 0521623502
  17. George Makdisi (1999), "Religion and Culture in Classical Islam and the Christian West", in Richard G. Hovannisian & Georges Sabagh, Religion and culture in medieval Islam, Cambridge University Press, pp. 3–23 [10–1], ISBN 0521623502
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