The Challenges of Codifying Islamic Law

Dominik Krell

The Saudi legal system is on the verge of the arguably most significant transformation in its history: There are reports that Saudi Arabia will soon introduce a binding codification of Islamic law that will encompass private law, criminal law and family law. Until now, large areas of Islamic law have remained uncodified. Judges refer to Islamic jurisprudence in their judgments, which are full of references to medieval and late medieval legal treatises like Ibn Qudāma’s (d. 1223) book al-mughnī or al-Bahūtī’s (d. 1641) kashshāf al-qanāᶜ. In areas that have not been addressed by Islamic jurisprudence in the past, the Saudi government has issued codes (anẓima, sing. niẓām) that resemble European laws. For example, there is a written labor law and a commercial code.