Tag Archives: Religious Law

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.

“Non-State Justice Institutions and the Law: Decision-Making at the Interface of Tradition, Religion and the State” (Kötter et al., eds.)

In February, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Non-State Justice Institutions and the Law: Decision-Making at the Interface of Tradition, Religion and the State”  edited by Matthias Kötter (WZB Berlin Social Science Center), Tilmann Röder (Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law, Heidelberg, Germany), Folke Schuppert (WZB Berlin Social Science Center) and Rüdiger Wolfrum (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea). The publisher’s description follows:

Traditional forms of dispute resolution have become an important aspect in the political and academic debates on law and development and in numerous cases of constitution-making and judicial reform. This book focuses on decision-making by non-state justice institutions at the interface of traditional, religious, and state laws. The authors discuss the implications of non-state justice for the rule of law, presenting case studies on traditional councils and courts in Pakistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Bolivia and South Africa. Looking at the legitimacy of non-state justice from various angles, this collection explores the ways in which non-state legal systems and governmental structures are embedded in official state justice institutions and how this affects the protection of human rights.

“Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought” (Cartabia & Simoncini eds.)

This March, Cambridge University Press will release “Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law” edited by Marta Cartabia (University of Milan) and Andrea Simoncini (University of Florence).  The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Benedict XVI's legal ThoughtThroughout Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s pontificate he spoke to a range of political, civil, academic, and other cultural authorities. The speeches he delivered in these contexts reveal a striking sensitivity to the fundamental problems of law, justice, and democracy. He often presented a call for Christians to address issues of public ethics such as life, death, and family from what they have in common with other fellow citizens: reason. This book discusses the speeches in which the Pope Emeritus reflected most explicitly on this issue, along with the commentary from a number of distinguished legal scholars. It responds to Benedict’s invitation to engage in public discussion on the limits of positivist reason in the domain of law from his address to the Bundestag. Although the topics of each address vary, they nevertheless are joined by a series of core ideas whereby Benedict sketches, unpacks, and develops an organic and coherent way to formulate a “public teaching” on the topic of justice and law.

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.

“Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law” (Lau & Cotran, eds.)

In February, Brill Publishing will release “Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, Volume 17” edited by Martin Lau (University of London) and Hon. Eugene Cotran. The publisher’s description follows:

Practitioners and academics dealing with the Middle East can turn to the Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law for an instant source of information on the developments over an entire year in the region. The Yearbook covers Islamic and non-Islamic legal subjects, including the laws themselves, of some twenty Arab and other Islamic countries.

Kwall, “The Myth of the Cultural Jew”

This February, Oxford University Press will release “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition” by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall (DePaul University College of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Myth of the CulturalA myth exists that Jews can embrace the cultural components of Judaism without appreciating the legal aspects of the Jewish tradition. This myth suggests that law and culture are independent of one another. In reality, however, much of Jewish culture has a basis in Jewish law. Similarly, Jewish law produces Jewish culture. A cultural analysis paradigm provides a useful way of understanding the Jewish tradition as the product of both legal precepts and cultural elements. This paradigm sees law and culture as inextricably intertwined and historically specific. This perspective also emphasizes the human element of law’s composition and the role of existing power dynamics in shaping Jewish law.

In light of this inevitable intersection between culture and law, The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition argues that Jewish culture is shallow unless it is grounded in Jewish law. Roberta Rosenthal Kwall develops and applies a cultural analysis paradigm to the Jewish tradition that departs from the understanding of Jewish law solely as the embodiment of Divine command. Her paradigm explains why both law and culture must matter to those interested in forging meaningful Jewish identity and transmitting the tradition.

Sattam, “Sharia and the Concept of Benefit”

This February, I.B. Tauris Publishing will release “Sharia and the Concept of Benefit: The Use and Function of Maslaha in Islamic Jurisprudence” by Abdul Aziz bin Sattam (Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The idea of maslaha has a rich history in classical legal thought and literature. Conventionally translated into English as ‘general benefit’ or ‘general interest’, it has been the subject, over many centuries, of intense argument in Muslim legal manuals about how the concept should be constructed and how it might be interpreted. Some celebrated scholars have even elevated its status to an independent legal source; while other prominent jurists have spoken of the special strictures which need to be applied to maslaha when considering it within the overall framework of Islamic law. In this thorough and original treatment of the concept, Abdul Aziz bin Sattam offers the first sustained examination of one of the most important tenets of Sharia. Seeking to illuminate not only the intricacies of its application, but also the wider history which has shaped it, the author examines its foundations, theoretical underpinnings and the key debates in both classical and contemporary texts. His book will be a vital resource for all those with an interest in Islamic law, whether of the medieval or modern periods.

Halim, “Legal Authority in Premodern Islam”

This month, Routledge Press releases “Legal Authority in Premodern Islam: Yahya B Sharaf Al-Nawawi in the Shafi’i School of Law” by Fachrizal A. Halim (Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State Islamic University, Indonesia). The publisher’s description follows:

Offering a detailed analysis of the structure of authority in Islamic law, this book focuses on the figure of Yahya b. Sharaf al-Nawawi, who is regarded as the chief contributor to the legal tradition known as the Shafi’i madhhab in traditional Muslim sources, named after Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi’i (d. 204/820), the supposed founder of the school of law.

Al-Nawawi’s legal authority is situated in a context where Muslims demanded to stabilize legal disposition that is consistent with the authority of the madhhab, since in premodern Islamic society, the ruling powers did not produce or promulgate law, as was the case in other, monarchic civilizations. Al-Nawawi’s place in the long-term formation of the madhhabis significant for many reasons but for one in particular: his effort in reconciling the two major interpretive communities among the Shafi’ites, i.e., the tariqas of the Iraqians and Khurasanians. This book revisits the history of the Shafi’i school in the pre-Nawawic era and explores its later development in the post-Nawawic period.

Presenting a comprehensive picture of the structure of authority in Islamic law, specifically within the Shafi’ite legal tradition, this book is an essential resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies, History and Law.

Piatt, “Catholic Legal Perspectives”

This month, Carolina Academic Press releases a new edition of “Catholic Legal 9781611636642Perspectives,” by Robert William Piatt, Jr. (St. Mary’s). The publisher’s description follows:

This second edition updates the examination of contemporary issues, identifying in critical areas, how Catholic principles and legal principles overlap and diverge. While it is not expected or required that the reader agree, in every instance, with either the law or the Catholic perspectives, the reader of this work will come away with an understanding of both. Critiques and responses are included throughout. Topics include family issues (marriage, same sex marriage, divorce, annulment), immigration, public assistance, religious freedom, and matters of life and death, including abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty.

The book is aimed at law students, lawyers, those in Catholic undergraduate and graduate schools, and others who are interested in examining Catholic views regarding our system of justice. The book includes updated excerpts from cases and statutes, law review articles, and commentaries. It contains important Church documents including selections from papal encyclicals, communications from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, theologians, and others. Each chapter concludes with a “For Further Thought” section, asking the reader to consider, apply, and examine the principles discussed in that chapter. It asks law students and lawyers to reflect on whether these principles will or should affect their representation of clients or the way judges should approach cases brought before them. The book contains a bibliography at the end of each chapter for further reading and study.