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Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World Hardcover – April 10, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Eloquent . . . Thorough and admirable . . . Kadri's background gives him a grounded and many-angled perspective on Islamic law. He finds a great deal to admire in it, and he is deft at dispelling myths . . . [A] colorful march through Islamic history and jurisprudence . . . [Kadri] explores these complicated issues with probity but also good humor. (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

A vivid history of Islam . . . Kadri's writing is full of elegance and wit. (The New Yorker)

A carefully researched history of how Islamic jurisprudence has evolved since the seventh century . . . [Kadri] writes with a breezy, witty tone and excels at synthesizing Islamic scholarship for a general reader. He provides a lively intellectual history of Islam. (Mohamad Bazzi, The New York Times Book Review)

Heaven on Earth is an evolutionary look at Islamic jurisprudence that is subtle, generous and--rather improbably--dryly hilarious . . . What makes this book so good isn't just that it manages the odd feat of delivering a discriminating, magisterial history of shari'a that's also quite funny; it's that its humor isn't merely incidental. Kadri's tone--gently skeptical, wittily deflationary, and most of all darkly delighted by the absurdities of history--is perfectly consonant with the substance of his project. (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, NPR.org)

Measured [and] accessible . . . With the enthusiasm for complexity of a practicing lawyer, and the empathy of one descended from devout Indian Muslims, Kadri embraces this most controversial of topics with humor, heart and hope. (Brook Wilensky-Lanford, San Francisco Chronicle)

Learned, level-headed, engaging, [Heaven on Earth] deserves praise on every front . . . [Kadri] finds that the kinds of shari'a now trumpeted by theocrats and militants always owe more to human arrogance than to divine inspiration. (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent)

An ambitious, accessible survey from the first notions of as conveying 'the idea of a direct path to water' in the time of Muhammad when no written form of the moral law yet existed . . . With occasional personal travel details added to an engaging scholarly history, Kadri offers a readable, useful companion to the Qur'an. (Kirkus Reviews)

This is a beautifully nuanced and incisive study of a subject beset by misunderstanding. A timely and important achievement. (Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road)

Compelling . . . Admirably even-handed . . . [Heaven on Earth] book greatly enriches our understanding of a much misunderstood subject. (Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times (London))

A truly penetrating and provocative book. (Aatish Taseer, The Observer (London))

If you are about to utter the word 'Islam' or 'shari'a,' stop and read this book first. It's a fascinating and often witty account of the evolution of the shari'a through the ages and the way it's practiced across the Muslim world now. I never thought legal history could be made into a page-turner. Kadri is a brilliant historian and an even better writer. (Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes)

An elegantly composed model for writing cultural and intellectual history, Heaven on Earth explodes the nation of the Muslim world as a monolith and Islamic tradition as unchanging. (David Luhrssen, Express Milwaukee)

[A] fascinating journey . . . Skilfully weaves history with travelogue to guide the reader into this most contentious and topical of territory . . . Kadri approaches these themes with unstinting humanity and intelligence, as well as great fluency. (James Mather, The Spectator)

Captivating . . . Heaven on Earth is an erudite and instructive book. (Ziauddin Sardar, The Times (London))

Illuminating . . . Intriguing and memorable . . . [An] intellectually nimble and rigorously researched book . . . Kadri is a precise and stylish writer, as good on explicating abstruse arguments as he is at conjuring vivid scenes . . . Given how heated debates about shari'a have become, and given how glancing the intellectual engagement with it is on the part of some of the most strident voices, this brave and sane book could not be more timely. (Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman)

[A] brilliant and illuminating study . . . A gripping account . . . Kadri is far too subtle to either to mount an attack on shari'a, or to defend it. He has demystified it . . . With tact and fine writing, [Kadri] has helped us to understand what shari'a really is, and how it emerged, and that will do at least something to demolish prejudice. (Boris Johnson, The Mail on Sunday)

Lively, yet scholarly . . . Kadri is an ideally positioned guide. (Sameer Rahim, The Daily Telegraph)

About the Author

Sadakat Kardi is a practicing English barrister and qualified New York attorney, and the author of The Trial. He has a master's degree from Harvard Law School and has contributed to The Guardian, The Times (London), and the London Review of Books, and he is the winner of the 1998 Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing. He lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First American Edition edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374168725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374168728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #945,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Sadakat Kadri's "Heaven on Earth" is an amazing work that takes the reader through the history of Islam through the development of the shari'a, the path devout Muslims hope to follow to come closer to God. As the author makes clear, Islam as any other religion, is rife with conflicting interpretations of the Quran that developed over time and that continue today. Western civilization experienced the same sort of rifts as Christianity developed and split and split again. Kadri does a superb job at explaining the history of the development of Islamic jurisprudence and by doing so illuminates present day conflicts within Islam and between Islam and the West. I've read Karen Armstrong's Biography of Mohammed and her History of Islam, both are good basics, and while a basic knowledge of Mohammed's life and the development of Islam make Kadri's book even better, his writing and organization stand on their own. Providing knowledge and provoking thoughts are Kadri's strong points, and he is unafraid to tackle the hard issues throughout this book. The inextricable linkage in Islam between the State and religion is one aspect of the development of shari'a that continues to be difficult for western readers to comprehend, although the US has its share of those who want the nation to be defined as a "Christian nation" so perhaps the linkage is not so difficult to understand. Islamic scholars have had to wrestle with questions of how to interpret the Quran, its conflicts, its changes, and how to interpret its contents in accord with the world as it is. These processes are not so different from that undergone by other religious scholars attempting to understand their own traditions (with the attendant biases and agendas operating in any interpretation). Kadri's three year work on this book shows, and it should be read by anyone who wants to better understand how the jurisprudence of Islam developed and exists in myriad forms today.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sadakat Kadri gives readers a good history of Islam beginning with the life of Muhammad and continuing to the present. He focuses mostly on the development of the Islamic legal system, how it changed in remarkable ways.

The basic document of Islam is the Qur'an; however much of its original meaning is unclear or no longer relevant: "most of the Qur'an's 114 chapters had been overruled - 71 of them, according to one authoritative estimate." Islamic scholars explain that "God's responses to changing circumstances meant that many older verses of the Qur'an could be legally ineffective."

Muslims differ as to when the Qur'an appeared. It "was first enunciated by the Prophet Muhammad during the 620s." It is not composed chronologically, but organized according to the size of its chapters. Its name means "recitation," and many are convinced that it wasn't written down until after Muhammad's death. Others insist that he had it written during his lifetime. Some say that Allah composed it. Others insist that it existed as long as Allah. This later view suggests that the Qur'an's content has nothing to do with divine will or earthly circumstances; it is truth personified. However, this view seems to be contradicted by its changes due to altered circumstances.

Shari'a is Islamic laws, from inheritance to warfare. The name conveys "the idea of a direct path to water - a route of considerable importance to a desert people." However, it is more than that. Water is a sustainer of life. As one Syrian jurist put it: "If it had not been for the fact that some of its rules remain [in this world] this world would [have] become corrupted and the universe would [have been] dissipated." Changes in human circumstances also resulted in changes in the shari'a.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World

There is no better way to understand current events in the Islamic world (e.g. the "Islamic Spring")than to carefully read this outstanding historic summary of the origins and growth of "Shari'a" law and politics from pre-Islam to 2012. This is an outstanding read, covering politics, war, law and philosophy; once finished, you can read your morning newspaper and place current developments in the Muslim world in a comprehensive context. Congratulations to the author!

Van E. Langley, J.D.
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Format: Kindle Edition
A well-written and, overall, excellent book -- one I will recommend to my friends who want to learn about the evolution of Shari'a law.

Part I provides a concise journey through the history of Shari'a law. The author covers the main developments in Islamic jurisprudence and puts those developments in their historical and political context. He makes a compelling point for not limiting our opinions and treatment of Shari'a law to what we know about it based on the past few decades.

Part II of the book was OK. I can't put my finger on why I do not like it as much as Part I. It is possibly due to my inability to piece together the diverse stories from the author's travels into a coherent message. That said, chapter 10, which is part of Part II, ended with three paragraphs I consider among the most powerful in the book.
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Format: Paperback
The book has two foci. The first is historical development, the second looks at the current state of affairs of Islam in a political milieu. In the first Kadri provides a useful account of the differences between the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, which generally formed around a charismatic leader and subsequently developed in reaction to each other. In the second aspect Kadri hits major hot spots - Afghanistan Iran, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and England and comments on the stigmatization of the Amadiya Muslims, but doesn't take a good look at Europe, the former Soviet Union, America or west Africa. A comparable book is Tamim Ansari's Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.

The Four Sunni Mahdabs

The Hanafites, a Sunni school based in Baghdad, founded by Abu Hanifa (699-767), tended towards more lenient interpretations of the law, and are said to have developed the idea of "hilal", or loop holes, finding ways around the prohibitions against alcohol (fermented date juice) and using promisary notes to get around rules against usury. The next mahdab (school) created was that of Malik ibn Anas of Hijaz in Arabia, who argued that the Hanafites served their opinions, not God, and advocated law which more closed mirrored the actions (sunna or practice) of the Prophet and his companions - not only extending to civil matters but also to individual behaviour. This was followed by the brief existence of the rationalist Mutawalli (sp) mahdab which argued that God, being perfect, would have created a world amenable to reason, therefore reason could be trusted to determine the rule of law.
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