My understanding is that Islamic thought got its big boost in the "Al Andalusian paradise", which essentially consisted of the Muslim conquerors having the conquered peoples translate their books into Arabic, a sizable portion of which was Christian.

This makes me wonder if these translated works were a big inspiration for Islamic law. I know that philosophers like Averroes were very well read in these translated works, as well as contributing greatly to Islamic law.

Additionally, after the Gregorian reform, a big system of canon law was develop that was very widely adopted, which predates the time when philosophers like Averroes were contributing to Islamic law.

It seems plausible to me that canon law was very influential for developing Islamic law, since canon law is highly influenced by Aristotelianism, and Averroes was a big Aristotle fan. Additionally, having a big body of already developed law to rely on would make Averroes' job a lot easier. It's also striking to me that both Catholic and Islamic law try to be completely comprehensive in covering every area of life, since they share the same presupposition that all law is ultimately derivative of divine law.

Is there any validity to this hypothesis that Islamic law is influenced, perhaps significantly, by Catholic canon law?


1 Answer 1


Not really, no.

For one thing, your postulated point of contact, Al Andalus, was on the order of 6,000 KM overland from the center of the Islamic world in Baghdad. If they wanted to borrow legal ideas from the Christian world, their next-door neighbors, the (Eastern Orthodox) Byzantines would be a far better choice than the remote, and at the time impoverished, barely literate, and relatively lawless Western Europeans.

For another, the chief written sources of Islamic law were the Koran and the Hadith (sayings of of The Prophet). Islamic scholars were quite ruthless in rooting out "law" that couldn't claim any basis in those two things, and even in rooting out faked elements of the Hadith. Taking anything from an infidel barbarian's law book would be right out.

  • Your answer seems pretty good, but I did notice this in the Wikipedia article on Sharia: "According to this theory, most canonical hadiths did not originate with Muhammad but were actually created at a later date, despite the efforts of hadith scholars to weed out fabrications." So, the ruthless rooting out may have missed a lot of the tares. I wonder if Islamic law was significantly influenced by the Eastern Orthodox, then, since the Byzantine empire was very advanced, which would amount to essentially the same idea.
    – yters
    Nov 4, 2022 at 14:15
  • On the other hand, the sharia article also says a lot of western legal institutions seem to be derived from sharia. So maybe I have the causality reversed! I'll ask the opposite question, which is more politically correct anyways, and so more likely to get an answer :) That is, after my four days of censorship for asking unpopular questions :/
    – yters
    Nov 4, 2022 at 14:44
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    @yters I wonder what "western legal institutions seem to be derived from sharia", because the basis of the Western legal institutions is mostly the Corpus Iuris Civilis (Roman Law) "rediscovered" in the 12th century. Nov 4, 2022 at 15:43
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    @CarlosMartin - This paper seems to aim to cover that. scholarship.law.unc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://…
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 4, 2022 at 15:49
  • @CarlosMartin yes, I'm wondering if it's all a big roundabout. First came Roman law, which was adopted by the Christians, and then spread east. Muslims took over the eastern Christians, and adopted their law. Then, western Christians discovered Islamic law that was based on eastern Christian law, which was in turn based on Roman law. So, at the end of the day, we're all still Romans, and now Rome rules the entire civilized world? I'd be very interested if some scholar did a comprehensive trace of it all.
    – yters
    Nov 4, 2022 at 20:13

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