Notes and Thoughts from George Makdisi’s “The Rise of Colleges”

1. Regular sessions of legal disputation can greatly enhance a student’s understanding of disputed legal issues as well as train him in the art of sound legal disputation. Furthermore, it exposes the student to the evidences and principles of rival schools of law. Lastly, it inculcates a higher level of respect and tolerance for opposing ideas, under the condition that the disputation not become a conflict of course. Because disputation can often lead to quarrels, it must be proven that participants are of cool temper and honest endeavor of the truth.

In the past, disputations were regular parts of a scholar’s schedule. Disputations (or debates) were sometimes even performed ceremonially, on occasions of state, or during the period of condolence following the funeral of a master-jurist, three sessions of disputation taking place usually on three consecutive days. Sessions often ran from sunset to midnight.

2. One thing remained constant about the ijazah system over the centuries. No matter how sophisticated the ijazah became, whether it authorized one book, or a whole repertoire of hadiths, or the teaching of law, or the issuing of legal opinions, it remained an authorization made by one person, or if by more than one, by one at a time.

3. Memory, so important in the teachings of hadith (tahdith), kept its importance in the teaching of law (tadris). In fact, while it was permissible to dictate hadiths from a book, from written matter, in law the master jurisconsult was supposed to know his materials by heart. The master jurisconsult had to know his law by heart, much the same as a virtuoso musician had to know his music, in order the better to concentrate on the rendition.

4. There was no particular limit of time required for preparation as a jurisconsult qualified to issue legal opinions. The books on theory spoke of the obligation to do so, but also warned against rushing into the practice. The authorization was issued usually to students at an advanced age, in their thirties, forties or even later. But some received it at an early age.

5. From the biographical notices on jurisconsults of the fourth/tenth and fifth/eleventh centuries a pattern emerges clearly showing three functions of the master jurisconsult: the teaching of law (tadris), the issuing of legel opinions (ifta’) and disputation (munazarah).

6. The authorization to teach law and issue legal opinions was given after an examination had taken place. The examination, needless to say, was oral.

7. The terms tadris and mudarris, used absolutely, without complements, were reserved for the field of law. The professorship of law, therefore, was alone designated by the term tadris, its plural appearing later as tadaris. All other professorships were referred to as mashyakhah.


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