Tag Archives: Islamic Law

Abou El Fadl, “Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age”

In October, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers will release “Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari‘ah in the Modern Age” by Khaled Abou El Fadl (University of California, Los Angeles School of Law). The publisher’s description follows:

In light of recent concern over Shari’ah, such as proposed laws to prohibit it in the United States and conflict over the role it should play in the new Egyptian constitution, many people are confused about the meaning of Shari‘ah in Islam and its role in the world today. In Reasoning with God, renowned Islamic scholar Khaled Abou El Fadl explains not only what Shari‘ah really means, but also the way it can revitalize and reengage contemporary Islam.After a prologue that provides an essential overview of Shari‘ah, Abou El Fadl explores the moral trajectory of Islam in today’s world. Weaving powerful personal stories with broader global examples, he shows the ways that some interpretations of Islam today have undermined its potential in peace and love. Rather than simply outlining challenges, however, the author provides constructive suggestions about how Muslims can reengage the ethical tradition of their faith through Shari‘ah.As the world’s second largest religion, Islam remains an important force on the global stage. Reasoning with God takes readers—both Muslim and non-Muslim—beyond superficial understandings of Shari‘ah to a deeper understanding of its meaning and potential.

Spevack, “The Archetypical Sunni Scholar”

In October, State University of New York Press will release “The Archetypical Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of al-Bajuri” by Aaron Spevack (Colgate University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Archetypical Sunni ScholarThis is a rare study of a late premodern Islamic thinker, Ibrahim al- Bājūrī, a nineteenth-century scholar and rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Aaron Spevack explores al- Bājūrī’s legal, theological, and mystical thought, highlighting its originality and vibrancy in relation to the millennium of scholarship that preceded and informed it, and also detailing its continuing legacy. The book makes a case for the normativity of the Gabrielian Paradigm, the study of law, rational theology, and Sufism, in the person of al- Bājūrī. Soon after his death in 1860, this typical pattern of scholarship would face significant challenges from modernists, reformers, and fundamentalists. Spevack challenges beliefs that rational theology, syllogistic logic, and Sufism were not part of the predominant conception of orthodox scholarship and shows this scholarly archetype has not disappeared as an ideal. In addition, the book contests prevailing beliefs in academic and Muslim circles about intellectual decline from the thirteenth through nineteenth centuries.

Emon, “Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law”

In September, Oxford University Press will release Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law: Dhimmis and Others in the Empire of Law by Anver M. Emon (University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious Pluralism and Islamic LawThe question of tolerance and Islam is not a new one. Polemicists are certain that Islam is not a tolerant religion. As evidence they point to the rules governing the treatment of non-Muslim permanent residents in Muslim lands, namely the dhimmi rules that are at the center of this study. These rules, when read in isolation, are certainly discriminatory in nature. They legitimate discriminatory treatment on grounds of what could be said to be religious faith and religious difference. The dhimmi rules are often invoked as proof-positive of the inherent intolerance of the Islamic faith (and thereby of any believing Muslim) toward the non-Muslim.

This book addresses the problem of the concept of ‘tolerance’ for understanding the significance of the dhimmi rules that governed and regulated non-Muslim permanent residents in Islamic lands. In doing so, it suggests that the Islamic legal treatment of non-Muslims is symptomatic of the more general challenge of governing a diverse polity. Far from being constitutive of an Islamic ethos, the dhimmi rules raise important thematic questions about Rule of Law, governance, and how the pursuit of pluralism through the institutions of law and governance is a messy business.

As argued throughout this book, an inescapable, and all-too-often painful, bottom line in the pursuit of pluralism is that it requires impositions and limitations on freedoms that are considered central and fundamental to an individual’s well-being, but which must be limited for some people in some circumstances for reasons extending well beyond the claims of a given individual. A comparison to recent cases from the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Court of Human Rights reveals that however different and distant premodern Islamic and modern democratic societies may be in terms of time, space, and values, legal systems face similar challenges when governing a populace in which minority and majority groups diverge on the meaning and implication of values deemed fundamental to a particular polity.

“Modern Islamic Thinking and Activism” (Erkan Toguslu & Johan Leman, eds.)

This month, Leuven University Press released Modern Islamic Thinking and Activism: Dynamics in the West and in the Middle East, edited by Erkan Toguslu (KU Leuven University) and Johan Leman (Emeritus Professor at KU Leuven University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Modern Islamic Thinking and ActivismModern Islamic Thinking and Activism presents a series of scholarly papers in relation to Islamic thinking, activism, and politics in both the West and the Middle East. The reader will apprehend that Islam is not the monolithic religion so often depicted in the media or (earlier) in the academic world. The Islamic world is more than a uniform civilization with a set of petrified religious prescriptions and an outdated view on political and social organization. The contributions show the dynamics of ‘Islam at work’ in different geographical and social contexts. By treating the working of Islamic thinking and of Islamic activism on a practical level, Modern Islamic Thinking and Activism includes innovative research and fills a significant gap in existing work.

Ndzovuis, “Muslims in Kenyan Politics”

In September, Northwestern University Press will publish Muslims in Kenyan Politics: Political Involvement, Marginalization, and Minority Status by Hassan Ndzovuis (Moi University, Kenya).  The publisher’s description follows:

Muslims in KenyaMuslims in Kenyan Politics explores the changing relationship between Muslims and the state in Kenya from precolonial times to the present, culminating in the radicalization of a section of the Muslim population in recent decades. The politicization of Islam in Kenya is deeply connected with the sense of marginalization that shapes Muslims’ understanding of Kenyan politics and government policies.

Kenya’s Muslim population comprises ethnic Arabs, Indians, and black Africans, and its status has varied historically. Under British rule, an imposed racial hierarchy affected Muslims particularly, thwarting the development of a united political voice. Drawing on a broad range of interviews and historical research, Ndzovu presents a nuanced picture of political associations during the postcolonial period and explores the role of Kenyan Muslims as political actors.

The Dhimma Returns in Iraq

al arabiya

Photo: Al Arabiya

Sad news from Iraq this weekend. In response to an ultimatum from ISIS–the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” or, if you prefer, just the “Islamic State–Christians have evacuated the northern city of Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center of Christianity, particularly the various Syriac Christian communions: Chaldean-rite Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East, a church that once spread as far as China. As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul. After this weekend, virtually none remain.

The expulsion of Christians from Mosul suggests something very worrying about the possible future of Islamism. And it serves as a reminder of what can happen to religious minorities when secular dictatorships in the Arab world collapse.

Mosul lies within the territory of the “caliphate” that ISIS, a militant Sunni Islamist group, has proclaimed in parts of Iraq and Syria. Its ultimatum to the Christians of Mosul is the same it gave the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced last week: “Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” In recent days, ISIS operatives went through Mosul marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun” for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with the term dhimma. The dhimma is the notional contract that governs relations between the Muslim umma and Christians (and Jews) in classical Islamic law. Theoretically, it dates back to the “agreement” one of the early caliphs made with the Christian community of Syria. The dhimma allows Christian communities to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya—in Mosul, ISIS was requiring a jizya of about $500—and submission to various social and legal restrictions. The dhimma forbids Christians from attracting attention during worship, for example, from building new churches, and generally from asserting equality with Muslims.

It’s wise to take ISIS at its word. On Saturday, ISIS operatives expelled the 52 Christian families who remained in the city–after first requiring them to leave all their valuables behind. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.

One could say much about this sad uprooting of Christianity from a place where it has survived for millennia, but here are two observations. First, a psychological line has been crossed, and this may have dire consequences in future. For the moment, ISIS is unique among Islamist groups in calling for formal reinstatement of the dhimma. Although Islamists everywhere reject the idea of equality for Muslims and Christians, they typically avoid calling for the dhimma, as they understand that most contemporary Muslims find the concept abhorrent. Nothing succeeds like success, however. ISIS has now shown that it is possible to reestablish the dhimma at the center of the Muslim world. Other Islamist groups will no doubt take notice. Christians who remain in the Middle East have great cause for worry.

Second, although principal responsibility for this outrage lies with ISIS, and with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose misgovernment has created a situation in which ISIS can gain a following, the United States bears responsibility as well. Its invasion of, and hasty withdrawal from, Iraq set in motion a chain of events that has allowed radical groups like ISIS to succeed. In the Middle East, secular dictatorships can be very brutal. But they are often the only thing that stands in the way of the absolute destruction of minority religious communities. Toppling such dictatorships and hoping for their replacement by “moderate” elements is not a good bet. Incredibly, this seems to be a lesson the United States still has to learn.

Katz, “Women in the Mosque”

In September, Columbia University Press will publish Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice by Marion Holmes Katz (New York University).  The publisher’s description follows: Women in the Mosque

Juxtaposing Muslim scholars’ debates over women’s attendance in mosques with historical descriptions of women’s activities within Middle Eastern and North African mosques, Marion Holmes Katz shows how over the centuries legal scholars’ arguments have often reacted to rather than dictated Muslim women’s behavior.

Tracing Sunni legal positions on women in mosques from the second century of the Islamic calendar to the modern period, Katz connects shifts in scholarly terminology and argumentation to changing constructions of gender. Over time, assumptions about women’s changing behavior through the lifecycle gave way to a global preoccupation with sexual temptation, which then became the central rationale for limits on women’s mosque access. At the same time, travel narratives, biographical dictionaries, and religious polemics suggest that women’s usage of mosque space often diverged in both timing and content from the ritual models constructed by scholars. Katz demonstrates both the concrete social and political implications of Islamic legal discourse and the autonomy of women’s mosque-based activities. She also examines women’s mosque access as a trope in Western travelers’ narratives and the evolving significance of women’s mosque attendance among different Islamic currents in the twentieth century.

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Haseeb, “State and Religion in the Arab World”

On July 22, Routledge Publishing will release State and Religion in the Arab World, by Khair El-Din Haseeb (Centre for Arab Unity Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

This collection focuses on the controversial relationship between religion and the state within the Arab Spring context and the evolving debates on democratic transition. In this book, democracy is not questionable; it is hailed by all those vocal on the political scene. The array of opinions presented here varies from a call for a secular state based on Islamic philosophy to a call for setting democratic institutions before working on solving this religion-state dichotomy. Meanwhile some prefer to have an ambiguous stand on which side to back up, the liberals or the Islamists, despite a detailed criticism of the ossified ways of those calling for a religious state (Al-Majd). The book starts with an analysis and a detailed account of how the sensitive issue of the relationship between state and religion developed in Arab though and society and it goes on to employ less the religious discourse in presenting their positions thus focusing on actual cases of this struggle for power in different Arab countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. The collection also provides insights and analysis of the ongoing debates and views on the role of religion in Libya and provides an analysis of the case of Morocco. In addition to this there is a special chapter that deals with how Muslim communities living in the West adapt to secular state politics. The collection ends with a thorough discussion by a number of Arab intellectuals and activists, Muslims and Christians alike, whereby core issues related to the debate on state and religion are presented. This discussion, in addition to reflecting the Islamist-secular dichotomy, demonstrates the richness of the ongoing debates that extend well beyond the discourse on this dichotomy.

This book is a compilation of articles published in Contemporary Arab Affairs.

Haider, “The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa”

This July, Cambridge University Press will publish The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa by Najam Haider (Barnard College). The publisher’s description follows.

The Sunni-Shi’a schism is often framed as a dispute over the identity of the successor to Muhammad. In reality, however, this fracture only materialized a century later in the important southern Iraqi city of Kufa (present-day Najaf). This book explores the birth and development of Shi’i identity. Through a critical analysis of legal texts, whose provenance has only recently been confirmed, the study shows how the early Shi’a carved out independent religious and social identities through specific ritual practices and within separate sacred spaces. In this way, the book addresses two seminal controversies in the study of early Islam, namely the dating of Kufan Shi’i identity and the means by which the Shi’a differentiated themselves from mainstream Kufan society. This is an important, original and path-breaking book that marks a significant development in the study of early Islamic society.

Jackson, “What is Islamic Philosophy?”

Earlier this year, Routledge released What is Islamic Philosophy? by Roy Jackson (University of Gloucestershire, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

What is Islamic Philosophy? offers a broad introduction to Islamic thought, from its origins to the many challenging issues facing Muslims in the contemporary world. The chapters explore early Islamic philosophy and trace its development through key themes and figures up to the twenty-first century.

Topics covered include:

  • ethical issues such as just war, abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality and cloning
  • questions in political philosophy regarding what kind of Islamic state could exist and how democratic can (or should) Islam really be
  • the contribution of Islam to ‘big questions’ such as the existence of God, the concept of the soul, and what constitutes truth.

This fresh and original book includes a helpful glossary and suggestions for further reading. It is ideal for students coming to the subject for the first time as well as anyone wanting to learn about the philosophical tradition and dilemmas that are part of the Islamic worldview.