- Paperback: 312 pages
- Publisher: Clarendon Press; Reprint edition (October 27, 1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198254733
- ISBN-13: 978-0198254737
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 5.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An Introduction to Islamic Law Reprint Edition
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The first half is more interesting. Some of the things I learned:
*The author tells a story of how Islamic law evolved. After the first decades of Islam, a few pious Muslims began to give advice on ritual matters. As these men met like-minded men, they created schools of legal specialists. As traditions (allegedly generated by the Prophet Mohammed and his associates) become widespread, the scholars combined those traditions with their own interpretations of the Koran to create the major schools of sharia. A few sects over time have diverged from these schools, though most such movements have died out. Most of this evolution was over by about 1000; according to the author, sharia has evolved far less since 1000, as later scholars deferred to the old masters (much as the Talmud has become effectively canonized in Judaism).
*There is no one universally applicable Sharia. Even within the dominant Sunni sect, there are several schools of Sharia, each of which evolved in a different part of the Islamic world- kind of like Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish law. The differences among these schools (like those between Sephardim and Ashkenazim) tend to be nonideological.
*Like Jewish law, Islamic law has occasionally proved to be flexible. Although sharia prohibits interest, Islamic scholars have created ways of facilitating commerce while staying within the letter of the law. Similarly, the strict criminal penalties of sharia have occasionally been limited by procedural safeguards; for example, someone cannot be executed for adultery unless there are four witnesses.
*It is a common cliche in America that "there is no separation of church and state in Islam." In a sense, this is true; sharia influences government action in a way that would not be permissible in the United States. This does not mean, however, that Islamic governments have ever mechanically applied sharia. According to the author, governments have generally been willing to pick and choose among Islamic legal rules, applying sharia where feasible but not in every situation. For example, the medieval Ottoman empire's penal laws presupposed that the sharia's original "punishments are obsolete and replaces them by ... provisions [that] go beyond merely supplementing the sharia by the [administrative justice] of the ruler, and amount to superseding it."
Because this book was written in the 1960s, the author does not explore the relationship of modern radical Islam to the earlier schools, nor does it focus heavily on Islam's relationship with other religions. However, the author does mention the radical purism of Saudi Wahabbism in passing, and also mentions that more modernist regimes seek to integrate Islam with modernity by adopting "any opinion held at some time in the past" where that opinion seems appropriate as a matter of policy.
The book does however cover the four schools of Sunni Islam as best it can and makes a decent attempt to provide the reader with at least a basis to study an extreamly complex and misunderstood leagal system.
Worth a read but read with caution.