Joseph Franz Schacht, born in Ratibor, 15 March 1902, died in Englewood, 1 August 1969, was a British-German professor of Arabic and Islam at Columbia University in New York. He was the leading Western scholar on Islamic law, whose Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (1950) is still considered a centrally important work on the subject. The author of many articles in the various editions of the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Schacht also edited the second edition of The Legacy of Islam for the Legacy series of Oxford University Press. Other books include An Introduction to Islamic Law (1964).

Some of his work is published in the book Quest for the Historical Muhammad edited by Ibn Warraq.

Muhammad Mustafa Al-A'zami's work On Schacht's Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence is a systematic response to Schacht's thesis.

Life and career

Joseph Schacht was born into a Catholic family but, with a zeal for study, became at an early age a student in a Hebrew school. In Breslau and Leipizig he studied Semitic languages, Greek, and Latin, under famous professors, including Gotthelf Bergsträßer. In 1925 he obtained his first academic position at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in Breisgau. In 1927 he became there a professor extraordinarius, making him the youngest professor in all of Germany, and in 1929 a professor ordinarius of Semitic languages. In 1932 he was appointed a professor at the University of Königsberg. But in 1934, without being directly threatened or persecuted, Schacht, as a strong opponent of the Nazi regime, went to Cairo, where he taught until 1939 as a professor. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he happened to be in England, where he offered his services to the British government and worked for the BBC. In 1947 he became a British citizen.

Schacht taught at Oxford University from 1946. In 1954 he moved to the Netherlands and taught at the University of Leiden. In the academic year 1957–1958, he taught at Columbia University, where in 1959 he became a full professor of Arabic and Islamic studies. He remained at Columbia until his retirement in 1969 as professor emeritus.

One of Schacht's major contributions to the history of early Islam is the recognition that Hadith probably stems from those in whom the different traditions of the past converge, and this convergence Schacht describes as "common link". This concept was later used productively by many other orientalists.


Bergsträsser, Gotthelf: Grundzüge des islamischen Rechts. Bearbeitet und herausgeben von Joseph Schacht. Berlin-Leipzig 1935.

Schacht, Joseph: An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford 1964.

Schacht, Joseph: The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press 1967 (with corrections and Additions).

    Wakin, Jeanette: Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902–1969). Islamic Legal Studies Program. Harvard Law School. Occasional Publications 4, January 2003.

    Rainer Brunner (2005), "Schacht, Josef Franz", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German) 22, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 491–492; (full text online)

    Bernard Lewis (1970). "Joseph Schacht (in English) not". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 33, part 2. pp. 378–381. Archived from the original on 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2012-12-01.