The British Association for Islamic Studies (BRAIS) and De Gruyter are delighted to announce the outcome of the fourth (2019) round of the BRAIS – De Gruyter Prize in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World. This year, first place was split between two entrants:


Winners (in alphabetical order):


A Theory of Early Classical Ḥanafism: Authority, Rationality and Tradition in the Hidāyah of Burhān al-Dīn ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Marghīnānī (d. 593/1197)

(University of Oxford)



The Biblical Turn in the Qurʾan Commentary Tradition

(Yale University)


The Prize award ceremony was held on Tuesday 16th April 2019 at the Sixth Annual Conference of BRAIS, which took place at the University of Nottingham. This year’s ceremony was attended by the Prize recipients, Dr Sohail Hanif and Dr Samuel Ross, along with Dr Saeko Yazaki in her capacity as Chair of the Committee. The winners gave brief presentations based on their theses.


Dr Saeko Yazaki (left) and Dr Sohail Hanif



Dr Saeko Yazaki and Dr Samuel Ross


The following four other entrants were shortlisted for the prize, and their submissions were deemed to be of high scholarly quality and interest (in alphabetical order, including awarding institutions):


  • Amenah Abdulkarim, Building Craftsmen in Mamluk Society 648-923/1250-1517: The Professional Muhandis in Context (Queen Mary University, London)
  • Burcak Ozludil Altin, Madness and Empire: The Ottoman Asylum, 1830-1930 (New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University)
  • Michael Noble, The Perfection of the Soul in Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s al-Sirr al-Maktūm (Warburg Institute)
  • Deniz Türker, Ottoman Victoriana: Nineteenth-Century Sultans and the Making of a Palace, 1795-1909 (Harvard University)


On the Winners:

Sohail Hanif received his PhD in 2018 from the Oriental Institute at the University of Oxford. He is currently a Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Cambridge Muslim College (CMC).

Samuel Ross received his PhD in 2018 from the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University.


The Winning Submissions:


A Theory of Early Classical Ḥanafism

Fiqh, literally ‘deep understanding’, is the science of religious law in Islam. What does it mean for an Islamic jurist to ‘do fiqh’? And how does an engagement with fiqh guide a jurist to produce statements of law for particular social contexts? This thesis offers an answer to these questions from the viewpoint of jurists from the early classical Ḥanafī tradition of Central Asia. The thesis starts with an examination of Central-Asian Ḥanafī works of legal theory to extract the underlying epistemological foundations of this legal tradition. The remainder of the thesis presents a series of investigations into a leading work of legal commentary – the Hidāyah of Burhān al-Dīn ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Marghīnānī (d. 593/1197) – to assess how these epistemological foundations inform the work. These investigations range from a study of the processes by which the legal cases commented on in the work were seen to be authoritative, to a study of the use of rational arguments, dialectical sequences and juristic disagreement in exploring and expositing cases of the law. The thesis also studies points of theory employed in the commentary that reveal how social context was seen to impact on the production of law. The study concludes by suggesting a general theory of Ḥanafī jurisprudence, explaining what it means to ‘do fiqh’ – presented as a particular form of engagement with the legal cases transmitted from the teaching circle of Abū Ḥanīfah (d. 150/767), the school’s eponym – and how this fiqh engagement with Ḥanafī precedent informed the production of legal statements tailored to specific contexts – by the application of a particular filter of legal mechanisms, each of which reflects an understanding of the overarching principle of ‘necessity’ (ḍarūrah). The study presents a uniquely Ḥanafī legal epistemology which is underpinned by particular notions of authority, rationality and tradition.


The Biblical Turn in the Qurʾan Commentary Tradition

This work explores a puzzle in the history of Qur’anic exegesis and Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations more broadly. Through a survey of more than 150 Arabic Qur’an commentaries, part one demonstrates that very few pre-modern commentators drew upon the biblical text directly. This finding is surprising given the utility of reading the two scriptures together, early commentators’ own assimilation of Jewish and Christian oral lore (isrāʾīliyyāt), and the early translation of the Bible into Arabic. During the past two centuries, however, Qur’an commentators globally have opened the tafsīr tradition to the biblical text in a virtually unprecedented manner.


Part two seeks to identify the specific historical factors that occasioned these developments. It argues that liturgical, geographical, and codicological factors associated with the Arabic Bible best account for the dearth of pre-modern biblical citation. It then explores the transforming impact of the Ottoman Tanẓīmāt reforms, the Arab Renaissance (Nahḍah), and Christian missionary activity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Part two also seeks to explain the most prominent exception to the rule that pre-modern commentators ignored the Bible, Ibrāhīm al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480).


Through close readings of four representative modern commentators, part three argues that some commentators now even accord the Bible a limited degree of authority over the Qur’an, issuing novel interpretations that can run contrary to the Qur’an’s plain sense meaning. In contrast to the modern tendency to winnow religious authority to the Qur’an and authentic ḥadīth, this work argues that Muslim scholars have conversely begun to expand the canon of materials authoritative for tafsir to include the biblical text.



For the current call for submissions, please go to