A Tragedy of Politics or an Apolitical Tragedy?
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law
September 1, 2011
Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 131, No. 1, 2011
It has been almost 50 years since Joseph Schacht and Noel Coulson published their respective introductions to Islamic law. Both works have served as standard introductions to Islamic law to countless students ever since. The last generation of Islamic law scholarship, however, beginning in the 1980s, has produced a body of research that systematically surpassed the contents of both these books without, however, producing a new introductory survey to the topic. This gap in scholarship left the teacher of Islamic law in somewhat of a bind: the most accessible introductions to his subject did not reflect the current state of research, but current scholarship had not produced a suitable work that could replace either Coulson or Schacht. Wael Hallaq, in his work, "Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations," attempts to fill this gap in the literature. This review essay argues that Shari'a does its job admirably, and will undoubtedly succeed as a worthy replacement for the earlier, but now largely superseded, works of Schacht and Coulson. Nevertheless, this review essay also argues that the book will also prove to be very controversial, given what appears to be its polemical, and in many cases, overtly anti-modernist tone. In particular, this review essays argues that Hallaq's work suffers from a systematic failure to provide a normative account of the political from an Islamic perspective and the normative relationship of Islamic law to politics. As a result of this absence, the case he presents for his principal thesis, that modern Islamic law is essentially illegitimate if not an outright oxymoron, is ultimately unpersuasive, and risks reinforcing already well-entrenched western stereotypes about Islam, Muslims and Islamic law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 20
Keywords: Islamic Law, Modern Islamic Law, Religion and Law, Law and Society
Date posted: September 14, 2011 ; Last revised: September 15, 2011