The Muslims’ Holy Book is a “mirror-book:” the meanings promoted by the exegetes lie not in the text but, rather, in an interaction between the text and the exegetes’ own experience. Even when the legal rules do find a foundation in its verses, they are not obtained by way of a simple reading. The prohibition against wine demonstrates this quite clearly: the exegetes reorganize the text of the Qur’an after reworking it and then, relying on external data, they propose an interpretation.
If one is to understand the Qur’an’s legal exegesis properly, it is necessary to take the classic concept of sharia, the “Islamic law,” as one’s starting point. Here, I am not referring to the Qur’anic conception of the Law but, rather, to that singular notion formulated by the jurists during the ninth century that was to become hegemonic during the centuries that followed. This approach enables one to see that it would be anachronistic to talk of sharia before the ninth century. Islam has adhered to the idea of a revealed, divine law right from its very dawning, to be sure, but the concept of sharia was a distinctive manifestation of this idea.