A significant contribution to the history of early Islam bay, is the realization that Hadith probably originate from the person, in which the various lines of tradition converge in the past, and he called the common link. This method was later applied fruitfully by many other Islamic scholars.
Joseph Schacht was born into a Catholic family. On the Humanistic Gymnasium in Ratibor he learned Latin, Greek, English and French and, on its own initiative, with Hebrew. He studied in Breslau and Leipzig oriental and classical philology, including at Gotthelf Bergsträßer. In 1925 he received his first academic appointment at the Albert- Ludwigs- University of Freiburg im Breisgau. Two years later he became an associate in 1929 and a full professor of oriental languages. In 1932 he was called to Königsberg, but left Germany in 1934 without directly persecuted or to be at risk and went to Cairo, where he taught until 1939 as a professor. Then he went to England, where he worked for the BBC. In 1947 he became a British citizen.
He taught from 1946 at the University of Oxford. In 1950 he traveled to West Africa to create a report on the position of Islamic law in northern Nigeria on behalf of the British Colonial Office. In his report, he made an effort to supply the British colonial administration an Islamic Legitimiation for their supervision and administration of the local legal system. He argued in his report that since the third Islamic century, the rigid religious law (Sharia ) by a legal administrative competence ( siyâsa ) of the ruler had been added, which would have to make the qadis result, insofar as they do not violate the Shari'a. For this reason, the British colonial authorities in northern Nigeria could expect from the qadis that they penetrated her orders. Protests on the part of Muslims against the British administration of Islamic jurisprudence were due only to the ignorance of " extremist " local scholars who are not adequately informed about Islamic law. Schacht's argument was based on a historical assumption, which is considered obsolete today. As Baber Johansen has shown in an article, the concept of siyâsa has been developed as a legal administrative competence of the ruler in the 15th century.
1954 pulled the shaft in the Netherlands and taught at the University of Leiden. Already 1957/1958 he went to the United States and taught at Columbia University, where he became in 1959 Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies. In 1969 he became Professor Emeritus there.
- Joseph Schacht: "Islam in Northern Nigeria," in Studia Islamica 8 (1957 ) 123-146.
- Schacht, Joseph, An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford 1964; Reproduction Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986, ISBN 0-19-825473-3
- Schacht, Joseph, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1967 ( enhanced and extended ); Emphasis on the basis of the proofs to the first edition by Digital Library Production Service at the Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.. 2001, ISBN 1-59740-118-8.