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Book: Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations

Much contemporary scholarship on Islamic law focuses either on Shari’a‘s development and structure in the premodern era, or on efforts to reconstitute and apply it in the modern Muslim world. In this comprehensive book, Professor Wael B. Hallaq does both.

In recent years, Islamic law, or Shari’a, has been appropriated as a tool of modernity in the Muslim world and in the West and has become highly politicised in consequence. Wael Hallaq’s magisterial overview of Shari’a sets the record straight by examining the doctrines and practices of Islamic law within the context of its history, and by showing how it functioned within pre-modern Islamic societies as a moral imperative. In so doing, Hallaq takes the reader on an epic journey tracing the history of Islamic law from its beginnings in seventh-century Arabia, through its development and transformation under the Ottomans, and across lands as diverse as India, Africa and South-East Asia, to the present. In a remarkably fluent narrative, the author unravels the complexities of his subject to reveal a love and deep knowledge of the law which will inform, engage and challenge the reader.

Review on the Book

Much contemporary scholarship on Islamic law focuses either on Shari’a‘s development and structure in the premodern era, or on efforts to reconstitute and apply it in the modern Muslim world. In this comprehensive book, Professor Wael B. Hallaq does both. While some of the material is derived from and summarizes his previous books and articles, much here is new, and the level of detail and depth of analysis are exceptional. This book is indispensable reading for any student or scholar of Islamic law. The book’s organization is simple and logical. In the first part he describes the formation and maturation of the classical Islamic law tradition, including the jurisprudential foundations of that tradition, the relationship between law and legal scholars on the one hand and governance and political rulers on the other, and the role of the legal schools in providing structure and stability to the law as applied in various Muslim societies. Both Shi’ite as well as Sunni approaches to these subjects are covered, and the author consistently draws the reader’s attention to how well the law, infused by revelation, custom, and scholarship, adapted to and served the needs of the diverse societies in which it operated. The second part of the book covers areas of substantive law (fiqh), including the religious-legal obligations of Muslims and the essential areas of contracts, property, family law and succession, and offenses. Hallaq provides both a summary of each of these areas, as well as numerous details [End Page 681] and case studies. He also offers a very useful analysis of the legal doctrine of jihad, as well as a discussion of courts and judicial process. Again, the differences between Shi’ite and Sunni law are covered, as are the important distinctions between the major Sunni schools. This presentation fully dispels any doubts the reader may have had about the sophistication and efficacy of Islamic law in its classical formulation and application.

The third and final part of the book contrasts the integration of Shari’a within the fabric of premodern Muslim societies with the catastrophic consequences of excising Shari’a from Muslim societies in the modern era. Hallaq contends that Shari’a sustained premodern Muslim societies, accommodating diversity and local customs within a legal framework that both reflected and underpinned the moral values of those societies. On the other hand, the dynamics of the modern state, emerging from Europe into the Muslim world through colonialism, demands uniformity of (positive) law as a prerequisite to the state’s absolute control over every aspect of social life. Modern state law and the Shari’a are simply incompatible. The author’s exploration of this thesis is thorough and convincing. He discusses this modernist project both generally and geographically, describing how state law has displaced the Shari’a in various countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, even in such self-proclaimed “Islamic” states as Pakistan and Iran. He then critiques the attempts of modern Muslim theorists, including Rashid Rida, Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, Fazlur Rahman, Abdolkarim Soroush, and others, to reconcile or reformulate Shari’a to fit within the modern state construct. He concludes that every such attempt has failed.

About the Author

Wael B. Hallaq (1955- Nazareth, Palestine) is a scholar of Islamic law and Islamic intellectual history. He is currently the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University at the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. After a Ph.D.

Bibliographic Information

Title: Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations

Author: Wael b. Hallaq

Publisher:  Cambridge University Press

 Language: English

Length: 626

ISBN:  978-0521678742

Pub. Date: April 27, 2009

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