In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations
  • Mark D. Welton (bio)
Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations, by Wael B. Hallaq. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ix + 550 pages. App. to p. 562. Bibl. to p. 597. Index to p. 614. $120 cloth; $63 paper.

Much contemporary scholarship on Islamic law focuses either on Shari'a's development and structure in the premodern era, or on efforts to reconstitute and apply it in the modern Muslim world. In this comprehensive book, Professor Wael B. Hallaq does both. While some of the material is derived from and summarizes his previous books and articles, much here is new, and the level of detail and depth of analysis are exceptional. This book is indispensable reading for any student or scholar of Islamic law. The book's organization is simple and logical. In the first part he describes the formation and maturation of the classical Islamic law tradition, including the jurisprudential foundations of that tradition, the relationship between law and legal scholars on the one hand and governance and political rulers on the other, and the role of the legal schools in providing structure and stability to the law as applied in various Muslim societies. Both Shi'ite as well as Sunni approaches to these subjects are covered, and the author consistently draws the reader's attention to how well the law, infused by revelation, custom, and scholarship, adapted to and served the needs of the diverse societies in which it operated. The second part of the book covers areas of substantive law (fiqh), including the religious-legal obligations of Muslims and the essential areas of contracts, property, family law and succession, and offenses. Hallaq provides both a summary of each of these areas, as well as numerous details [End Page 681] and case studies. He also offers a very useful analysis of the legal doctrine of jihad, as well as a discussion of courts and judicial process. Again, the differences between Shi'ite and Sunni law are covered, as are the important distinctions between the major Sunni schools. This presentation fully dispels any doubts the reader may have had about the sophistication and efficacy of Islamic law in its classical formulation and application.

The third and final part of the book contrasts the integration of Shari'a within the fabric of premodern Muslim societies with the catastrophic consequences of excising Shari'a from Muslim societies in the modern era. Hallaq contends that Shari'a sustained premodern Muslim societies, accommodating diversity and local customs within a legal framework that both reflected and underpinned the moral values of those societies. On the other hand, the dynamics of the modern state, emerging from Europe into the Muslim world through colonialism, demands uniformity of (positive) law as a prerequisite to the state's absolute control over every aspect of social life. Modern state law and the Shari'a are simply incompatible. The author's exploration of this thesis is thorough and convincing. He discusses this modernist project both generally and geographically, describing how state law has displaced the Shari'a in various countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, even in such self-proclaimed "Islamic" states as Pakistan and Iran. He then critiques the attempts of modern Muslim theorists, including Rashid Rida, Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, Fazlur Rahman, Abdolkarim Soroush, and others, to reconcile or reformulate Shari'a to fit within the modern state construct. He concludes that every such attempt has failed.

Professor Hallaq's appreciation of the central role and success of Shari'a in sustaining the various societies in which it operated during the classical and early Ottoman and Safavid eras contrasts with his evident despair over its virtual nullification since the 19th century. Whether it will reemerge in some form that again supports vibrant civil societies in the Muslim world is left unanswered, although the prospects appear poor. But the future role and shape of Shari'a remains central to contemporary Muslim thought and debate, and this book provides a solid basis for understanding this important subject.

Mark D. Welton

Mark D. Welton, Professor of International and Comparative Law, United States Military Academy at West Point...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 681-682
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.