Monday, March 07, 2005

Islamic Law

Over the weekend, I read the newly published Islamic Law: From Historical Foundations to Contemporary Practice by Mawil Izzi Dien. Islamic law, or shari'a is an important topic on which I'm pretty weak, and this did a good job of filling in some gaps and explaining issues I found confusing. There's really more to say than I have time to blog about, but worth noting is the author's conclusion about the future of Islamic law. He identifies as a key issue the lack of a state enforcement mechanism, but argues that shari'a has existed alongside other forms of jurisprudence before and is organic enough to survive whatever comes as part of the lives of Muslims. However, the lack of central authorities, especially in Sunni Islam, may lead to more frequent movements such as that of Usama bin Laden which invoke shari'a to support what are essentially political programs. He also draws an interesting but not unprecedented historical parallel to the Kharijites who rebelled against Ali during the time of the First Fitna.

The other path, of course, which the author doesn't mention, is that followed by the many Jews who simply don't follow Jewish religious laws. This, I think, is a key issue within contemporary Islam, and it may be that in the future the most important divisions within the Islamic world will not be between Sunni, Shi'ite, and Ibadhi so much as between something like Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. This could especially happen in places like Iran, where there is a central authority to enforce the shari'a, but where that authority has lost much of its popular legitimacy.

Anyway, I've added this book to those recommended on my sidebar.


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