Junior Research Groups

Norm, Normativity and Norm Changes

Project Description

The central objective of the junior research group for the next years will be the search for answers to the following question: Is justice addressed as a normative theory for social order in Islam? And if so, to what extent? The term “justice” will thereby be analysed regarding aspects of legal theory, theology and empiricism.

The tendency to take for granted the practice of Ijtihad, and hence the process of norm transition in the broadest sense, has, generally speaking, become prevalent in Islamic legal thought. Herein questions about the relationship between the idea of justice and the progress of legal thought are discussed.

On the other hand the controversy over God’s justice and the question of whether it can be judged based on human benchmarks has led to major theological arguments within Islam. The discussion about justice as an attribute of God and as a significant feature of the Islamic worldview will herein be analysed.

A further field of research focuses on the empirical aspect and poses the question of how Muslims, particularly German Muslims, think about and define justice, and how they judge the given legal and sociopolitical circumstances in respect to their perceptions of justice.


Head of the Junior Research Group: PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Staff Members: Isabel Schatzschneider (M.A.), Marianus Hundhammer (M.A.), Mahmoud Abushuair (M.A.)

Completed Projects


Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Staff Member:

Dr. Farid Suleiman

Description of the Project:

As a rule, theology, including Islamic theology, is regarded as a field of knowledge in which one deals with temporally valid questions of faith. After a close examination, however, it should be noted that the genesis of (Islamic) theology is accompanied on the one hand by the development of other fields of knowledge such as philosophy, mysticism, natural sciences and jurisprudence, and on the other hand by socio-political changes. This is not the least a reason to see why there have been so many divergent theological views in Islam.

The starting point of this research project was the following observation: in the traditional theological debates, no matter who and with which school-based character, the negatively formulated question “Who does not belong to Islam?” occupies a central place. One tries to clearly define the frame of an Islamic faith according to one’s own ideas, and then to determine all others who do not exhibit these beliefs as “unbelievers” (kāfir), “apostates” (murtadd) or “sinners” (fāsiq). We wanted to formulate this central theological concern positively and ask, “Who belongs to Islam?” This change of perspective in the questioning is necessary in view of the historical fact and the present reality that there are innumerable theological ideas, all of which, according to their own perspective, define themselves as Islamic. The first step to Islamic theology, which offers enough room for plurality, is to express as many theological perspectives as possible.

The change of this narrative perspective was discussed in a small group in the junior research group, debated in a lecture series and in a workshop. The result of this dispute was presented in the following anthology:

Abbas Poya & Farid Suleiman (eds.): Unity and Diversity in Contemporary Muslim Thought, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2017.


Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Project description:

The Qur’ān is the most important normative text in Islam. Therefore, from early Islamic times to the present, scholars have always been concerned with the question of how to best understand the Qur’ān. In doing so, they go different ways, depending on their cognitive interest; from the interpretation of the Qur’ān by the Qur’ān itself (tafsīr al-qur’ān bi-l-qur’ān) and the interpretation of the Qur’ān by the tradition (tafsīr al-qur’ān bi-l-ma’ṯūr) of philosophical, mystical, historical, and scientific approaches to literary and narratological experiments. Even though the exegeses’ stated goal was and is to find out what God means – and God’s statements are understood to be understandably contradictory – the various interpretive approaches naturally give different understandings of the same text. This circumstance, in turn, leads to diverging norms in Islam.

Considering the exegetical diversity, one is confronted with Qur’ānic hermeneutics, the approach of which is reminiscent of the mix-and-match principle in fashion. Mix-and-match is the clever combination of garments often with very different textures, colors, shapes, and patterns that ultimately gives a coherent overall picture. On the one hand, Qur’ānic exegesis represents a uniform, harmonious discipline of knowledge working according to clearly defined criteria; but, on the other hand, may often combine very different views and approaches.

This image was put up for discussion and reflected in some expert discussions with colleagues. Some have agreed to write their observations on this subject and to make them available. This is how the present volume was created, in which some influential approaches to the Qur’ānic hermeneutics are treated in the present. In this way, the publication lends itself very well to being used as a handbook for the Islamic-theological and Islamic-science courses on the topic of Qur’ānic exegesis in the modern age.

Abbas Poya (Hrsg.): Koranexegese als »Mix and Match«. Zur Diversität aktueller Diskurse in der Tafsīr-Wissenschaft, Bielefeld 2017


Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Project description:

Justice is considered a significant feature of the Islamic world view. “On righteousness rested heaven and earth” (wa bi-l-‘adl qāma as-samāwāt wa-l-arḍ). According to this world view, God stands for justice and also ensures its realisation (Qur’ān, 3:18). Thus, justice is also defined as the goal of Islamic religion that Muslims must strive for (Qur’ān 75:25). At the same time, justice is a central concept of the Islamic ideas of order. Thus, justice is seen as an important characteristic of the head of state, the judge, the mufti, and the leader. According to some scholars, the principle of justice is the standard by which religious norms must be measured. They affirm that what religion proclaims is not just, but that which is just proclaims religion.

Based on the assumptions outlined above, the following questions are to be discussed within the scope of the research project:

– Justice as a theological concept

– Justice as a social ethical concept

– Justice as a normative standard

– Justice and Human Rights

– Gender Equality

– Felt Justice

Some of these topics were discussed in the 2013/14 colloquium entitled “Justice: Aspects and Perspectives”. In the course of my further preoccupation with the subject, I have dealt in particular with the ethical concept of justice by the medieval jurist Abū al-Hasan al-Māwardī (972-1058). The results of this research project were presented in the following anthology.

Abbas Poya (ed.): Sharia and Justice. An Ethical, Legal, Political and Cross-Cultural Approach, Berlin 2018.

Current Projects

Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Project description:

Iǧtihād is a central concept in Islamic legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) and describes the process of a scholar formulating an independent opinion when finding a law. In doing so, a legal scholar has the opportunity to express his own opinion on the basis of a different interpretation of the Koran and hadith texts or with reference to the common good (maṣlaḥa) and the equity principle (istiḥsān) or other methodological approaches.

Iǧtihād is virtually the cause and at the same time the reason for legitimacy for the various law schools and practices in Islam. Another aspect of the term iǧtihād, which is being discussed by some contemporary Muslim thinkers, is the practice of iǧtihād in the area of ​​beliefs (‘aqā’id) and theological problems (kalām). In this way they legitimise the diversity of theological, confessional and ideological views. In the meantime, a separate genre (iǧtihād al-kalāmī, “theological iǧtihād”) has been established within inner-Muslim discourses, of which some works have already been published. The question that arises now is whether the practice of iǧtihād in theology continues a spiritual attitude that has already existed in the history of Islam or if it is an answer to modern societal challenges such as tolerance, freedom of expression, and religion. This research project is intended to supplement my previous legal studies on iǧtihād and to explore the theological aspect of the term. The research result will also be a contribution to the politically and socially important question of the Muslim attitude towards other Islamic as well as non-Islamic convictions; a question that has to be discussed more and more urgently in light of recent academic developments in Germany (namely the establishment of Islamic theological institutes in Germany).

Joint Project with the Junior Research Group Erlangen/Bayreuth

Project description:

In Erlangen we deal in particular with ethical-normative questions in Islamic theology such as justice, iǧtihād and God’s attributes whilst the Bayreuth Junior Research Group works with empirical methods on Islamic and especially Shiite contemporary cultures in Europe, and above all, in Germany. In the summer of 2016, the first talks about a cooperation took place. In view of our previous focus and the question of usability, we have decided on a joint research project for the topic of “teaching and learning cultures in Islam”. After some joint meetings and intensive discussions on the relevance and practicability of the research project, we decided, amongst other things, to hold regular workshops and to, at least once a year, discuss the topic with the invited specialist speakers. The research project particulary addresses the following questions: which teaching and learning mechanisms, systems, and strategies exist in Muslim traditions, how are they used, how can they be used in the European / German context in a constantly changing world? In this context, questions of communication mechanisms, networks, and relationships between teachers and students are important. Another question would be how to convey the Islamic learning content in a social or academic environment, which is strongly multicultural and multi-religious. As early as November 2016, the first workshop entitled “Dynamics of Islamic Teaching and Learning Cultures” took place. Amongst other things, the following topics were discussed: “relevance of contexts and structures for the reconstructive understanding of educational processes”, “informal learning communities”, “critical ability in the Islamic teaching tradition”, as well as “educational theory approaches among classical and modern Muslim scholars”. In April 2018, the second workshop titled “Tolerance and Demarcation: positions on Islamic unity and diversity” took place. Theoretical questions such as the “ideas of unity and diversity in Islam” and “the concept of ahl al-qibla and the plurality of the umma” were discussed. On the other hand, practically relevant topics such as “Islamic prisons” or “pluralism and religious education in the classroom” were discussed. Another meeting is scheduled to take place at the end of 2019. The research results will be published in an anthology at the end.


Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Staff Member:

Isabel Schatzschneider

Project Description:

Justice is one of the most important ethical and legal values ​​in the Qurʾān. The concept of justice includes non-human beings as much as human beings. Animals and the environment are semantically and ontologically linked to the concept of God and His creation. They are represented as signs (āyāt, sing. Āya), which indicate the existence of the Creator, his omniscience, his absolute will, his omnipotence and other divine qualities. All living creatures possess a nonphysical force of spirit and mind. the earth was created for all creatures on this earth, including humankind, animals, plants and other types of organisms. Humankind’s superiority lies not in its enjoying any higher powers or control among created beings, but in humans’ accountability before God.

From an ethical point of view, it is a duty to treat animals, insects and other organisms with care and respect and to avoid any form of abuse and harm. Good deeds against other creatures and nature are highly rewarded. It is recommended to encourage any actions that improve the lives of animals and to remove anything harmful to them (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-n-nahy ʿani l-munkar).

In Islamic property law animals are assets and therefore subject to ownership and possession. Despite the differentiation between legal objects and animals; legally they are under the power of disposition of humans. Ownership confers significant rights of control that are intended to be exercised in the owner‘s interest. Consequently law classifies animals as “ other” in relation to human beings.

The discussions on justice and animals finds consideration in the following areas: al-kalām (theology), al-aḫlaq (ethics) and al-adab (etiquette), at-taṣawwuf (Sufism), as-siyāsa aš-šarīʿa (good governance according to šarīʿa law), al-fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), maqāṣid aš-šarīʿa (the higher objectives of the sharia) and social justice (al-ʿadala al-ijtimaʿiyyah).

The project Animal Welfare and Islamic Justice examines the following questions: Do humans and animals have the same rights? To what extent can the hierarchical position of humans be harmonized with animal rights? How can animal rights be integrated into a human-centered legal system? Can animals be included in a theory of justice? What are the institutional requirements to include animals in a theory of justice?

Project Lead:

PD Dr. Abbas Poya

Staff Member::

Marianus Hundhammer (M.A.)

Project description:

In addition to norms and normativity as fixed values in the academic discourse of Islamic theology, the activities of the junior researcher group also focus on the dynamic field of normative change. It becomes obvious that various international, and especially national developments such as the establishment of Islamic theologies at German universities, result in a new picture. On the one hand, through global networking and international exchange, the most diverse forms of Islam come into dialogue and discussion, which also make the respective norms and, in particular, their corresponding terminology the subject of debates. Beyond this start, there is an additional requirement in German university Islamic theology to represent norms and terminology in accordance with legal and scientific standards.

A dictionary of Islamic law in the German language, for purposes primarily about studying Islamic theology, but also the Islamic sciences or related subjects, in this context represents a desiderat. In addition to numerous individual treatises, there are glossaries and some relevant dictionaries that can be used for sub-sections of Islamic, however, there isn’t a reference book designed as a study-accompanying scientific tool. The book project thus pursues two goals within an outlined framework. Firstly, terms are examined for their ambiguity in different Islamic legal concepts and continue to be subject to legal and scientific review. Secondly, a goal of the project is the usability and practicability of study, which will be examined through the construction, scope, structure, and systemisation of the lemmas.