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A Review on the Book “An Introduction to Islamic Law”

Wael Hallaq’s An Introduction to Islam Law, an introductory book for the students of Islamic Law, is an important contribution in the field of Islamic jurisprudence and its development in history.

The author, who is a well known expert on this field/area, has tried to clear the misconceptions about Islamic Law and given a brief account of its historical development vis-à-vis its present apparent understanding in the contemporary world of academia and non academia. The first half “Tradition and Continuity” of the book is devoted to a discussion of Islamic Law in its pre-modern innate environment. While the second part “Modernity and Ruptures” explains how the law was transformed and ultimately dismantled during the colonial period. In the final chapters, the author charts recent developments and the struggles of the Islamists to negotiate change which have seen the law emerge as a primary textual entity focused on fixed punishments and ritual requirements.

In the first chapter “Who’s who in the Shari’a” Wael starts with some introductory remarks about the people who made Islamic law, which primarily is shaped by four kinds of people i.e. Mufti, Author-jurist, the judge and the law Professor. This chapter discusses the role of all these four experts in shaping and developing Islamic law in the traditional societies.

Second Chapter “The Law: how is it found?” mainly discusses the sources of Islamic law. The author has discussed all the preliminary sources of law i.e. Quran, Sunnah, Ijma, Qiyas (ratio legis) and other concepts like Istislah (public interest), Munasaba (suitability), and Istihsan (Juristic preference) which are related to the field of Law. The author discusses the ways and methods through which these jurists arrived at the law, showing the importance of interpretation in approaching the Quran and other sacred texts. In Chapter 3 “The legal schools” the author explains how these jurists came to belong to different schools, but more importantly what these schools meant in terms of giving authority to the law (an authority that the modern state was to replace). In Chapter 4 “Jurists, legal education and politics”, Wael turns to legal education, the means by which the juristic class reproduced itself over the centuries. This chapter offers a brief account of the workings of the “study circle” as well as of the law college, which has now become the infamous madrasa. The college, we will see, provided not only a point of contact between law and politics, but also an effective venue through which the ruling class attempted to create and sustain political and religious legitimacy. Topics covered in this chapter are no doubt important in themselves, but they are also fundamental for understanding nineteenth- and twentieth-century developments where the appropriation of the Shariʿa by the modern state was made possible through dynastic control of traditional legal education. Chapter 5“Shari’a’s society”, takes into account the interaction between law and society, especially how the moral community constituted the framework within which the law court operated. Customary practices of mediation are shown to intersect with judicial practice and to complement it as well. Finally, this chapter provides a look at the place of women in the traditional legal system.

Wael Hallaq after discussing pre-modern history of Islamic law, chapter 6 “Pre-Modern governance: The circle of Justice deals with a long-standing Near Eastern culture of political management that employed the Shariʿa not only for the purposes of acquiring political legitimacy by the ruler but also for achieving just rule as the ultimate realization of God’s will. Governance according to the Circle of Justice represented one of the highest forms of the rule of law, where the “state” itself was subject to a law not of its own making (unthinkable in our modern state system).

From chapter 7 “Colonizing the Muslim world and its Sharia”, the book moves on to the modern period, not a chronological measure of time so much as a dramatic transformation in the structure of Islamic law. Hence, the “modern” takes off where and when such transformations occur, in British India, for example, at least half a century earlier than in most

other Muslim countries. One of the major themes here is the negative impact brought about by the introduction into the Muslim legal landscape of the modern project of the state, perhaps – together with capitalism – the most powerful institution and feature of modernity. Thus, this chapter offers a historical narrative of legal colonization in key countries: India, Indonesia, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Iran and Algeria. The dominant theme throughout this chapter is how the Shariʿa was transformed and, eventually, dismantled.

In the 8th Chapter, “The law in the age of nation-states”, Wael Hallaq continues the discussion of this transformation after World War I, focusing on two major themes: first, the methods through which changes in the law were effected at the hands of post independence nationalist elites; and second, how the Shariʿa was reduced to little more than a set of altered provisions pertaining to family law, and how the coverage of this sphere became a central concern of the state’s will-to power. Precisely because modern family law preserved the semblance of Shariʿa’s substantive law (claiming itself to be its faithful successor), it is of particular interest to examine how an oppressive patriarchal system, engineered by the state, came to replace another, arguably milder, form of traditional patriarchy.

This change in the structures and systems of Islamic law is indicative of the drastically different conditions that modernity came to impose on family life and matrimonial relationships, on legal institutions, and on society at large. Coupled with the emergence of oppressive modern states and a deep sense of moral loss, these changes have all combined (together with poverty and much else) to produce a social phenomenon that is predominantly political but also legal and cultural in orientation. This is the Islamist movement, which has been influencing much of what is happening in the Muslim world today. Chapter 9 “State, Ulama and Islamists”, therefore addresses the complex relationship between the state, Islamists and the traditional religious establishment in a number of key countries – key, in that developments there have deeply affected most other regions in the Muslim world.

In the concluding chapter, of the book, (Chapter 10,“Shari’a then and now: Concluding notes”), the author summarize some of the salient points of the book, especially those that show how the Shariʿa was a living and lived system of norms and values, a way of life and a malleable practice. This in turn is contrasted with the manner in which the Shariʿa has emerged in the modern world, namely, as a textual entity capable of offering little more than fixed punishments, stringent legal and ritual requirements, and oppressive rules under which women are required to live.

Although Wael Hallaq is a leading scholar in the field of Islamic Law, who guides students through the intricacies of the subject in this absorbing introduction, but still the book under review needs to be critically evaluated especially by the people who are well versed with the traditional books of Fiqh like Imam Juwayni’s al-Waraqat, Imam Shatabi’s al-Muwafaqat and al-Ghazali’s al-Mustasfa but at the same time they must be aware of the current trends going on in the field of Islamic Law in the contemporary world. The author has not quoted any primary sources for building his whole ambit of evolution and development of Islamic Law in the beginning chapters of the book. In sum, An introduction to Islamic Law is a comprehensive and a path breaking standard introduction to the subject. The author has tried to create a basic worldview of Islamic Law and its historical development with respect to the current changing dimensions of Law in the age of modernity. This book will provide a helping hand to all those students who want to study the genesis of Islamic Law and its later developments in a scholarly manner. This book is a well-timed study and will prove an important text for scholars of Islamic studies, political science and philosophy of Law.

Reviewed by Mehraj Din Bhat Research Fellow, Department Of Islamic Studies University Of Kashmir, J&K, India.

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