Tag Archives: Islamic Law

Bhojani, “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a”

This month, Routledge Publishing will release “Moral Rationalism and Shari’a: Independent rationality in modern Shi’i usul al-Fiqh” by Ali-Reza Bhojani (Al-Mahdi Institute, Birmingham).  The publisher’s description follows:

Moral Rationalism and Shari'aMoral Rationalism and Shari’a is the first attempt at outlining the scope for a theological reading of Shari’a, based on a critical examination of why ‘Adliyya theological ethics have not significantly impacted Shi’i readings of Shari’a.

Within Shi’i works of Shari ‘a legal theory (usul al-fiqh) there is a theoretical space for reason as an independent source of normativity alongside the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. The position holds that humans are capable of understanding moral values independently of revelation. Describing themselves as ‘Adliyya (literally the people of Justice), this allows the Shi ‘a, who describe themselves as ‘Adiliyya (literally, the People of Justice), to attribute a substantive rational conception of justice to God, both in terms of His actions and His regulative instructions. Despite the Shi’i adoption of this moral rationalism, independent judgments of rational morality play little or no role in the actual inference of Shari ‘a norms within mainstream contemporary Shi’i thought.

Through a close examination of the notion of independent rationality as a source in modern Shi’i usul al-fiqh, the obstacles preventing this moral rationalism from impacting the understanding of Shari ‘a are shown to be purely epistemic. In line with the ‘emic’ (insider) approach adopted, these epistemic obstacles are revisited identifying the scope for allowing a reading of Shari’a that is consistent with the fundamental moral rationalism of Shi’i thought. It is argued that judgments of rational morality, even when not definitively certain, cannot be ignored in the face of the apparent meaning of texts that are themselves also not certain. An‘Adliyya reading of Shari’a demands that the strength of independent rational evidence be reconciled against the strength of any other apparently conflicting evidence, such that independent judgments of rational morality act as a condition for the validity of precepts attributed to a just and moral God.

Salim, “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam”

This April, Springer Press will release “The Transnational and the Local in the Politics of Islam: The Case of West Sumatra, Indonesia” by Delmus Puneri Salim (University of Sydney).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islamic RegulationsThis book explores the relationship between transnational and local Islam as expressed in public discourse and policy-making, as represented in the local press. It does so against the background of local governments in majority Muslim regions across Indonesia promoting and passing regulations that mandate forms of social or economic behaviour seen to be compatible with Islam. The book situates the political construction of Islamic behaviour in West Sumatra, and in Indonesia more generally, within an historical context in which rulers have in some way engaged with aspects of Islamic practice since the Islamic kingdom era. The book shows that while formal local Islamic regulations of this kind constitute a new development, their introduction has been a product of the same kinds of interactions between international, national and local elements that have characterised the relationship between Islam and politics through the course of Indonesian history. The book challenges the scholarly tendency to over-emphasise local political concerns when explaining this phenomenon, arguing that it is necessary to forefront the complex relationship between local politics and developments in the wider Islamic world. To illustrate the relationship between transnational and local Islam, the book uses detailed case studies of four domains of regulation: Islamic finance, zakat, education, and behaviour and dress, in a number of local government areas within the province.

Moosa, “What Is a Madrasa?”

In April, the University of North Carolina Press will release “What Is a Madrasa?” by Ebrahim Moosa (University of Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows:

Taking us inside the world of the madrasa–the most common type of school for religious instruction in the Islamic world–Ebrahim Moosa provides an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand orthodox Islam in global affairs. Focusing on postsecondary-level religious institutions in the Indo-Pakistan heartlands, Moosa explains how a madrasa can simultaneously be a place of learning revered by many and an institution feared by many others, especially in a post-9/11 world.

Drawing on his own years as a madrasa student in India, Moosa describes in fascinating detail the daily routine for teachers and students today. He shows how classical theological, legal, and Qur’anic texts are taught, and he illuminates the history of ideas and politics behind the madrasa system. Addressing the contemporary political scene in a clear-eyed manner, Moosa introduces us to madrasa leaders who hold diverse and conflicting perspectives on the place of religion in society. Some admit that they face intractable problems and challenges, including militancy; others, Moosa says, hide their heads in the sand and fail to address the crucial issues of the day. Offering practical suggestions to both madrasa leaders and U.S. policymakers for reform and understanding, Moosa demonstrates how madrasas today still embody the highest aspirations and deeply felt needs of traditional Muslims.

“The Caliphate and Islamic Statehood” (Kersten ed.)

This April, Gerlach Press will release “The Caliphate and Islamic Statehood: Formation, Fragmentation and Modern Interpretations” edited by Carool Kersten (King’s College, University of London).  The publisher’s description follows:

00813_Cover_Al-Zoby_fin.inddAlthough the Islamic Caliphate was formally abolished ninety years ago, it had already ceased to exist as a unitary and effectively administered political institution many centuries earlier. The ever widening gap between political ideal and historical reality is also reflected in the varying conceptualizations and theories of the Caliphate developed by Islamic religious scholars and Muslim intellectuals past and present. However, recent events in the Islamic world show that the idea of a Caliphate still appeals to Muslims of varying persuasions. This three-volume reference work tracks the history of the Caliphate as what many Muslims believe to be a genuine and authentic Islamic political institution: From its emergence in seventh-century Arabia until highly contested and controversial attempts of its revival at the beginning of the twenty-first century by radical Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter how grandiose such interpretations of a seemingly archaic institution may be, they show the Caliphate’s longevity as a rallying point – real or symbolic – for Muslims across the world.

Cottee, “The Apostates”

This April, Hurst Publishers will release “The Apostates: When Muslims Leave Islam” by Simon Cottee (Kent University).  The publisher’s description follows:

ApostatesThe Apostates is the first major study of apostasy from Islam in the western secular context. Drawing on life-history interviews with ex-Muslims from the UK and Canada, Simon Cottee explores how and with what consequences Muslims leave Islam and become irreligious.

Apostasy in Islam is a deeply controversial issue and features prominently in current debates over the expansion of Islam in the West and what this means. Yet it remains poorly understood, in large part because it has become so politicised — with protagonists on either side of the debate selectively invoking Islamic theology to make claims about the ‘true’ face of Islam. The Apostates charts a different course by examining the social situation and experiences of ex- Muslims. Cottee suggests that Islamic apostasy in the West is best understood not as a legal or political problem, but as a moral issue within Muslim families and communities. Outside of Muslim-majority societies, ex-Muslims are not living in fear for their lives. But they face and must manage the stigma attached to leaving the faith from among their own families and the wider Muslim community.

Ibrahim, “Pragmatism in Islamic Law”

In April, Syracuse University Press will release “Pragmatism in Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History” by Ahmed Fakry Ibrahim (McGill University).  The publisher’s description follows:

pragmatismIn Pragmatism in Islamic Law, Ibrahim presents a detailed history of Sunni legal pluralism and the ways in which it was employed to accommodate the changing needs of society. Since the formative period of Islamic law, jurists have debated whether it is acceptable for a law to be selected based on its utility, rather than weighing conflicting articulations of the law to determine the most likely expression of the divine will. Virtually unanimous opposition to the utilitarian approach, referred to as “pragmatic eclecticism,” emerged among early Islamic jurists. However, due to a host of changing institutional and socioeconomic transformations, a trend toward the legitimization of pragmatic eclecticism arose in the thirteenth century. Subsequently, the Mamluk authorities institutionalized this pragmatism when Sultan Baybars appointed four chief judges representing the four Sunni schools in Cairo in 1265 CE. After a brief attempt to reverse Mamluk pluralism by imposing the Hanafi school in the sixteenth century, Egypt’s new rulers, the Ottomans, embraced this pluralistic pragmatism.

In examining over a thousand cases from three seventeenth- and eighteenthcentury Egyptian courts, Ibrahim traces the internal logic of pragmatic eclecticism under the Ottomans. An array of archival sources documents the manner in which Egyptian society’s subaltern classes navigated Sunni legal pluralism as a tool to avoid more austere legal doctrines. The ensuing portrait challenges the assumption made by many modern historians that the utilitarian approaches adopted by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Muslim reformers constituted a clear rupture with early Islamic legal history. In contrast, many of the legal strategies exercised in Egypt’s partial codification of family law in the twentieth century were rooted in premodern Islamic jurisprudence.

Boe, “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a”

Last month, I.B.Tauris released “Family Law in Contemporary Iran: Women’s Rights Activism and Shari’a” by Marianne Boe (University of Bergen). The publisher’s description follows:

Passed into law over a decade before the Revolution, the Family Protection Law quickly drew the ire of the conservative clergy and the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. In fact, it was one of the first laws to be rescinded following the revolution. The law was hardly a surprising target, however, since women’s status in Iran was then – and continues now to be – a central concern of Iranian political leaders, media commentators, and international observers alike. Taking up the issue of women’s status in a modern context, Marianne Boe offers a nuanced view of how women’s rights activists assert their rights within an Islamic context by weaving together religious and historical texts and narratives. Through her substantial fieldwork and novel analysis, Boe undermines both the traditional view of ‘Islamic Feminism’ as monolithic and clears a path to a new understanding of the role of women’s rights activists in shaping and synthesizing debates on the shari’a, women’s rights and family law. As such, this book is essential for anyone studying family law and the role of women in contemporary Iran.

Afrianty, “Women and Sharia Law in Northern Indonesia”

This March, Routledge Press will release “Women and Sharia Law in Northern Indonesia: Local Women’s NGOs and the Reform of Islamic Law in Aceh” by Dina Afrianty (Australian Catholic University).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines the life of women in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where Islamic law was introduced in 1999. It outlines how women have had to face the formalisation of conservative understandings of sharia law in regulations and new state institutions over the last decade or so, how they have responded to this, forming non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have shaped local discourse on women’s rights, equality and status in Islam, and how these NGOs have strategised, demanded reform, and enabled Acehnese women to take active roles in influencing the processes of democratisation and Islamisation that are shaping the province. The book shows that although the formal introduction of Islamic law in Aceh has placed restrictions on women’s freedom, paradoxically it has not prevented them from engaging in public life. It argues that the democratisation of Indonesia, which allowed Islamisation to occur, continues to act as an important factor shaping Islamisation’s current trajectory; that the introduction of Islamic law has motivated women’s NGOs and other elements of civil society to become more involved in wider discussions about the future of sharia in Aceh; and that Indonesia’s recent decentralisation policy and growing local Islamism have enabled the emergence of different religious and local adat practices, which do not necessarily correspond to overall national trends.

“Islamic Political Thought” (Bowering, ed.)

This March, Princeton University Press will release “Islamic Political Thought: An Introduction” edited by Gerhard Bowering (Yale University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islamic Political ThoughtIn sixteen concise chapters on key topics, this book provides a rich, authoritative, and up-to-date introduction to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today, presenting essential background and context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. Selected from the acclaimed Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, and focusing on the origins, development, and contemporary importance of Islamic political ideas and related subjects, each chapter offers a sophisticated yet accessible introduction to its topic. Written by leading specialists and incorporating the latest scholarship, the alphabetically arranged chapters cover the topics of authority, the caliphate, fundamentalism, government, jihad, knowledge, minorities, modernity, Muhammad, pluralism and tolerance, the Qur’an, revival and reform, shariʿa (sacred law), traditional political thought, ‘ulama’ (religious scholars), and women. Read separately or together, these chapters provide an indispensable resource for students, journalists, policymakers, and anyone else seeking an informed perspective on the complex intersection of Islam and politics.

President Sisi’s Speech

Abdel_Fattah_el-SisiThe Internet is buzzing with news of a speech last week by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (left) on the need for a “religious revolution” in Islam. Speaking at Cairo’s Al Azhar University, the most important center of Islamic learning in the Sunni world, Sisi admonished the assembled scholars to revisit Islamic law, or fiqh, in order to calm the fears of the non-Muslim world. According to a translation at Raymond Ibrahim’s site, Sisi said:

I am referring here to the religious clerics.  We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before.  It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.  Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.  It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible!

I am saying these words here at Al Azhar, before this assembly of scholars and ulema—Allah Almighty be witness to your truth on Judgment Day concerning that which I’m talking about now.

All this that I am telling you, you cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You need to step outside of yourselves to be able to observe it and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Some are praising Sisi for his bravery. That’s certainly one way to look at it. When Sisi calls for rethinking “the corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years,” he may be advocating something quite dramatic, indeed. For centuries, most Islamic law scholars – though not all – have held that “the gate of ijtihad,” or independent legal reasoning, has closed, that fiqh has reached perfection and cannot be developed further. If Sisi is calling for the gate to open, and if fiqh scholars at a place like Al Azhar heed the call, that would be a truly radical step, one that would send shock waves throughout the Islamic world.

We’ll have to wait and see. Early reports are sometimes misleading; there are subtexts, religious and political, that outsiders can miss. Which texts and ideas does Sisi mean, exactly? Fiqh rules about Christians and other non-Muslims, which often insist on subordination? Some argue that, notwithstanding the speech at Al Azhar, Sisi has done relatively little to improve the situation of Coptic Christians. And calling for the opening of the gate is not necessarily progressive. Although progressive Muslim scholars endorse the opening of the gate in order to adapt fiqh to modernity, Salafist groups wish to open the gate in order to discard centuries of what they see as un-Islamic traditions. Opening the gate may be a signal for fundamentalism, for a return to the pure Islam of the Prophet and his companions. I don’t imply Sisi is a fundamentalist, of course. I’m just saying one needs to be alert to the nuances.

Still, Sisi’s remarks do suggest he means a rethinking of Islamic law to adapt to contemporary pluralism. This is definitely worth watching.