A history of the development of shari‘a law, from Muhammad’s recitations to modern interpretations of the Qur’an.
Kadri, an English barrister (The Trial: A History, from Socrates to O. J. Simpson, 2005) whose family hails from Muslim India, undertakes an ambitious, accessible survey from the first notions of shari‘a as conveying “the idea of a direct path to water” in the time of Muhammad when no written form of the moral law yet existed. Wisely, the author focuses on four key themes (war, modernity, criminal justice and religious tolerance) as he pursues how the Prophet’s sense of jurisprudence—indistinguishable from one’s all-consuming faith and worldview—was envisioned and practiced, written down a century later, institutionalized over the successive caliphate and creatively interpreted or misinterpreted by today’s fundamentalists. In a time of pagan worship, female infanticide and ruthless tribal stratification, Muhammad’s message, like that of Jesus, was revolutionary, emphasizing compassion, repentance and economic justice. Four sins were punishable by amputation, lashing or exile: theft, fornication, false accusation and “waging of war against Islam”—yet Kadri points out that physical punishment is only authorized five times in the Qur’an and stoning recorded only once. After discussing the early schism into Shia and Sunni sects, Kadri tracks how the necessary pull between religiosity and expediency spurred the formation of a science of jurisprudence and schools of law in eighth-century Baghdad. Decades of sectarian jockeying for power yielded a richness of Arabic scholarship, while 13th-century Mongol threats prompted new glosses, such as a casting back to the ancestors, or Salafism, and a justification for lethal force against Muslims in battle—the jihad. The author also examines the perilous modern resuscitation of these precedents in the 21st century.
With occasional personal travel details added to an engaging scholarly history, Kadri offers a readable, useful companion to the Qur’an.