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Reviewed by:
  • Modern Perspectives on Islamic Law by Ann Black, Hossein Esmaeili, Nadirsyah Hosen
  • Mark D. Welton (bio)
Modern Perspectives on Islamic Law, by Ann Black, Hossein Esmaeili, and Nadirsyah Hosen. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2013. 300pages. $135.

Modern Perspectives on Islamic Law offers the reader both more and less than the title might suggest. Much of the content is a basic introduction to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence and to substantive areas of the law, such as family, economic, property, and criminal law. It is thus more than a discussion of modern approaches to and interpretation of shari‘a. At the same time, one chapter, and parts of the rest of them, raise contentious issues arising from application of shari‘a in the modern Islamic and Western worlds, without themselves presenting any innovative approaches to resolving those issues. A specialist in Islamic law would find little that is new or startling in the book.

Nevertheless, what the book does provide is an excellent introduction to the most significant institutions, procedures and substantive areas of Islamic law, and to selected problems in applying that law by both modern states that have majority Muslim populations, and by individual Muslims in the Islamic world and the West alike who seek to follow shari‘a in their daily lives. Both the scope and the depth of the discussion are sufficient to engage and reward the reader who seeks a solid, if not exhaustive treatment of this subject.

The book begins with a useful discussion of the relationship between law and religion in Islam, including legal and political terms, and such institutions and processes as consultation (shura), fatwas and their issuance, the mosque, and the madrasa. Particular attention is then paid to the idea of citizenship in modern nation-states, and the meaning of the Muslim community (umma) in that context. The importance and changing nature of the fatwa is considered. This is followed by five chapters that address several substantive and procedural areas: family law; nonjudicial dispute resolution; economic law; property, inheritance, and trusts (awqaf); and criminal law. The inclusion of nonjudicial dispute resolution is an especially noteworthy contribution that is not often treated in other such books.

The final chapter is a brief but interesting consideration of contemporary debates in several areas not covered previously by the authors, which have received critical coverage in the Western media: wearing the veil, the role of shari‘a in modern nation-states, the construction of mosques in the Europe and North America, halal food, and the punishment of apostasy. The treatment is even-handed, neither unduly critical nor needlessly apologetic. Obviously many other issues could have been included, but in keeping with the basic approach of the authors the selection is sufficient to provide scope for thought and discussion.

A particular strength of the book lies in the selection of Muslim scholars and writers, working both in the Islamic and the Western worlds, whose works and approaches are mentioned as significant in the debates over the contemporary problems raised in each chapter. While the discussion in this book of their approaches to these debates is brief, the choice of scholars, such as Khaled Abou El Fadl and Abdullahi An-Na’im, provides an accessible body of work to which a nonspecialist can easily turn for further study.

Despite the authorship of three different writers (all working in Australia, two Muslim and one non-Muslim), the text flows clearly and logically with no discernible difference in organization or style. While a bibliography might have been useful, the endnotes to each chapter contain the works of the legal scholars mentioned earlier, as well as others, to which the reader can refer. In sum, for the reasons suggested throughout this review, this book would serve well as a textbook for an introductory course in Islamic law, both by providing a reference to fundamental principles of the law and by raising current problems of application that can be elaborated upon and discussed in an academic course and classroom setting. [End Page 333]

Mark D. Welton

Mark D. Welton, Professor Emeritus, United States Military Academy at West Point



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