Hermeneutics of Desire: Ontologies of Gender and Desire in Early Ḥanafī Law
This dissertation examines the construction of gendered legal subjects in the influential legal works of the eleventh century Ḥanafī jurist, Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Sarakhsī (d. 483 A.H./1090 C.E.). In particular, I explore how gendered subjects are imagined in legal matters pertaining to sexual desire. Through a close reading of several legal cases, I argue that gendered subjects in his legal work al-Mabsūṭ are constructed through an ontological framework that conceptualizes men as active and desiring and women as passive and desirable. This binary construal of gendered nature serves as a hermeneutical given in al-Sarakhsī’s legal argumentation and is produced through a phallocentric epistemology. Al-Sarakhsī’s discussions of desire and sexuality are mediated through the experience of the male body. While the dissertation endeavors to show the centrality of the active/passive binary in al-Sarakhsī’s legal reasoning, it also highlights the dissonances and fissures in the text’s construction of gendered subjects of desire. By tracing the intricacies of al-Sarakhsī’s legal reasoning, I note moments in which the text makes contradictory claims about gender and desire, as well as moments in which al-Sarakhsī must contend with realities that seemingly run up against his ontological framework. These moments in the text draw our attention to al-Sarakhsī’s active attempt at maintaining the coherence of the gendered ontology. I thus argue that the gendered ontology in al-Sarakhsī’s text is a legal fiction that both reflects his assumptions about gendered nature but is also constructed to rationalize legal precedence.
Gender and Sexuality
History of Sexuality
Islam and gender
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