Legal studies in any language pose problems to authors and readers alike. In translation, those same problems are compounded, even many times over at some places in the text, so that quite often the result is, to say the least, disappointing. Unfortunately, with regard to English translations of classical works of the Islamic intellectual heritage, this sort of disappointment has been the rule rather than the exception.
Certainly, to the student of Usul al Fiqh this disappointment has been all the more acute. While translations of classical works in the field are non-existent, with the shining exception of professor Khadduri's excellent rendition of al Imam al Shafi'i's Risalah, there is as yet no general and systematic study of the discipline in English. Even survey literature on the subject is scarce.
Yet, despite this near desperate situation, the International Institute of Islamic Thought has not published the present volume merely in order to fill a void in the library. Rather, it is in recognition of the dynamics of intellectual reform, and of the role of Ijtihad in that process, that the Institute is undertaking to publish a series of works by its President, Dr. Taha Jabir al 'Alwani, on the subject of al Usul and, in particular, Ijtihad.
This volume should be understood as an overview of the field, and as an introduction to the classical discipline. Subsequent volumes, however, will, In Sha'a Allah, present much that is original, and even vital. For it is the conviction of the Institute that the source methodology developed by the scholars of al Usul for dealing with and interpreting the texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah is what now needs to be placed before our Muslim social scientists so that they, with this important and versatile tool in hand, may proceed to fashion the outlines of a new relevancy for Islam.
Certainly, for our part, we can only hope that we have succeeded in making the text clear. Moreover, we have taken pains to include a full Subject Index, with the help of Cindex version 4.0 software, that should prove useful to specialist and generalist alike. Also, while the Arabic edition of this book was published with topic headings, it was not divided into chapters. In the interest of clarity, we have divided the work into chapters by converting, where necessary, topic headings into chapter headings; and by adding brief explanatory notes. May Allah give His guidance to the Ummah of Muhammad (PBUH).
A.S. Al Shaikh-Ali Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo
IIIT-London Department of Research-IIIT
Jumada al Akhirah 1411 AH
December 1990 AC