Islamic Law


Throughout history in almost every culture there has been the sordid practice of beheading. John the Baptist lost his head to King Herod. Louis XVI lost his under a French guillotine. But few would argue that beheading is just today, no matter what the rationale. The recent choreographed beheadings of ISIS have brought the issue once again to a head. Unfortunately, such video propaganda only feeds Islamophobia, even though there is no legitimate justification for such a practice in Islamic law or the sunna of the Prophet. Not one of the companions of the prophet is recorded as having decapitated an enemy; certainly the Prophet himself never committed such an act. Indeed, the blood-soaked ISIS spectacles are pornographic.

I recently came across a lengthy fatwa on the Islamic Sham Organization in response to the question if beheading is sanctioned in Islam. I attached it below as it is well worth reading.

السؤال:
ما حكم ذبح أسرى الأعداء بالسكين؟ وهل هو فعلاً سنة نبوية يمكن اتباعها؟

الجواب:
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
فقد أرسل الله سبحانه وتعالى رسولَه بالهدى والعدل والرحمة، فكان مما شرعه الإحسان في استيفاء العقوبات والحدود والقصاص، بأن تكون بأيسر طريقة وأسرعها، ومنعَ من كل ما فيه تعذيب وتمثيل، كتقطيع الأعضاء والذبح بالسكين، فإنها من الطرق الشنيعة والمنكرة في القتل، وبيان ذلك فيما يلي:
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The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 67, made a major contribution to the study of the Qur’an and other important aspects of Islam, for which he was branded an apostate in Egypt. For a summary of his life with links to videos and major works, check out the page on him in the series of “A Profile from the Archives” on al-Jadaliyya. For a film on his thinking, Youtube has the Lebanese film في إنتظار أبو زيد .

by Hasan Azad, al-Jazeera, July 11, 2014

What do the Islamic State, Boko Haram and the Taliban all have in common? Extremism? Caliphatism? Violence? All these things are merely incidental to these groups. What is essential to them is that they are all thoroughly modern formations. So what do I mean by this, given that they tend to strike us as the very antithesis of modernity?

First of all, it is crucial to ask ourselves what it is that we understand by modernity. We assume that modernity means reason, science, freedom, justice, racial, gender, and sexual equality. These are the assumptions. They are the ideals that are projected by a strident western discourse, where the West is seen as their progenitor and purveyor.

Perhaps it will strike the reader as a little odd if I say that these ideals are far from being realised within the West. That there are massive inequalities of sexualities, of genders and of races in the West. That western freedom, whether political, economic or consumerist, comes at the expense of the freedom of people living in non-western countries.

And this lack of freedom runs far and deep, reaching into the history of how non-European people were made to think during colonial times. For example, any serious study of the history of colonialism and its educational projects in its colonies reveals the extent to which Europe reconfigured indigenous modes of knowing with its own mode of thinking – a manner of thinking which has its roots in the Enlightenment, with its own idiosyncratic means of reasoning. (more…)

Here is an interesting Youtube video of Tariq Ramadan speaking about the issue of apostasy in Islam. For an Arabic translation of what he said, click here.


The first part of an interview with Wael Hallaq by Hasan Azad has just been published on al-Jadaliyya. Below is the introduction and the first part of a much longer exchange which can be followed here.

Throughout the last three decades, Wael Hallaq has emerged as one of the leading scholars of Islamic law in Western academia. He has made major contributions not only to the study of the theory and practice of Islamic law, but to the development of a methodology through which Islamic scholars have been able to confront challenges facing the Islamic legal tradition. Hallaq is thus uniquely placed to address broader questions concerning the moral and intellectual foundations of competing modern projects. With his most recent work, The Impossible State, Hallaq lays bare the power dynamics and political processes at the root of phenomena that are otherwise often examined purely through the lens of the legal. In this interview, the first of a two-part series with him, Hallaq expands upon some of the implications of those arguments and the challenges they pose for the future of intellectual engagements across various traditions. In particular, he addresses the failure of Western intellectuals to engage with scholars in Islamic societies as well as the intellectual and structural challenges facing Muslim scholars. Hallaq also critiques the underlying hegemonic project of Western liberalism and the uncritical adoption of it by some Muslim thinkers.

Hasan Azad (HA): One of the debates raging nowadays has been about the inattention that Muslim intellectuals receive in the West. One can say that, with relatively minor exceptions, the modern Muslim presence in, or contribution to, the intellectual world of the West is near nil. In the closing pages of your Impossible State, you have pointed out that a robust intellectual engagement between Muslim thinkers and their Western counterparts is essential, not only for the sake of better Western understanding of Islam, but also for the sake of enlarging the scope of intellectual possibilities in the midst of Euro-American thought. Your argument, I believe, meant to convey the idea that there is much that the Islamic worldview and heritage can contribute toward enriching our reflections on the modern project, in the West no less than in the East. What is that contribution, and why is it not happening? What are the obstacles standing in the way?

Wael Hallaq (WA): To speak of the potential contributions of Islam to a critique and restructuring of the modern project is a tall order, one that should come subsequent to a diagnosis of the present modern condition and its causes. The obstacles you alluded to are numerous and multilayered, and originate in both sides of the divide. If there are any failings—and there are many indeed—they cannot be located on one side only. The first, and most obvious of course, is the linguistic obstacle, the only means to communicating ideas. The West (by which I here mean Europe, its Enlightenment, distinctively modern institutions and culture and the spread of all these mainly to North America), has seen it sufficient to consider its two or three major languages so universal as not to care to learn other languages well, if at all. Even Orientalism, as an academic discipline, has not been successful in producing sustained command of Islamic languages, despite the fact that it did produce individuals whose linguistic competence even in more than one Islamic language was no less than masterful. It remains the case however that those who can navigate an Islamic language or text are a miniscule—in fact insignificant—minority in Western societies.

But there is a larger sense to Orientalism involved here. In many ways, the field of Orientalism is surrounded by an outer, immensely extensive layer; that is, countless numbers of influential voices who really never bothered to do any of the hard intellectual and philological work on Islam; yet, they feel quite justified and confident to pronounce on the “Orient,” both within the classrooms of academia or as so-called “experts” in mass media. This “peripheral” Orientalism usually escapes our common definitions of that discipline, but it forms the bulk of common and popular Western knowledge about the rest of the world, especially Islam. In any case, this is roughly the linguistic obstacle.

In 1981, during a trip to Egypt, I bought the old multi-volume Cairo edition of the mother of all Arabic dictionaries: al-Zabidi’s Taj al-‘Arus. It took up an entire suitcase and was so heavy that I paid the porter extra. As I arrived home, the handle broke and the books spilled in the landing of my home. Those were the days when most Arabic books had to be physically bought in the Middle East and carried home in luggage. Books that used to be accessible only in major libraries are often available online today. If one is patient just about any classic Arabic text from the past is available online. Some are pdf scans, where there is a treasure trove at archive.org and 4.shared.com. It is usually best to search these sites in Arabic. But even a ouja-board Google search in Arabic can yield full texts.

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Ahmed El Shamsy, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History
Cambridge University Press, 2013

by SherAli Tareen, New Books in Islamic Studies, January 10, 2014

In his brilliant new book, The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History (Cambridge UP, 2013), Ahmed El Shamsy, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago, explores the question of how the discursive tradition of Islamic law was canonized during the eighth and ninth centuries CE. While focusing on the religious thought of the towering Muslim jurist Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi‘i (d. 820) and the intellectual and social milieu in which he wrote, El Shamsy presents a fascinating narrative of the transformation of the Muslim legal tradition in early Islam. He convincingly argues that through al-Shafi‘i’s intervention, a previously mimetic model of Islamic law inseparable from communal practice made way for a more systematic hermeneutical enterprise enshrined in a clearly defined scriptural canon. Through a rich and multilayered analysis, El Shamsy shiningly demonstrates how and why this process of canonization came about. Written in a remarkably lucid fashion, this groundbreaking study will delight and benefit specialists and non-specialists alike. In our conversation, we talked about the shift from oral to written culture in early Islam, the contrast between the normative projects of Malik and al-Shafi‘i, al-Shafi‘i’s theory of language, the social and political reasons for the success of his legal theory, and the transmission of al-Shafi‘i’s thought by his students.

For an interview with the author, click here and scroll down.


Dr. amina wadud

by amina wadud, feminismandreligion.com, Oct. 3, 2013

This week, in the state where I am living, Kerala, India:

“…nine prominent Muslim (sic) organizations have decided to approach the Supreme Court to exclude Muslim women from the law prescribing a minimum marital age. According to them, the present Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, which prescribes 18 as women’s legal age and 21 for men, violates Muslims’ fundamental right to practice their religion.”

Let me try to step back and formulate this in plain English.

India is a secular democratic nation-state, with a population of over 1 billion, a poverty rate at best estimated at 22%. It ranks as the 55th worst country with regard to its maternal mortality rate with estimates as high as 450 per 100,000, and has an infant mortality rate of 44-55 per 1000. All the above factors have a direct corollary to child marriage: poverty, maternal mortality (think babies having babies), and thus, infant mortality is directly related to the national age of marriage.

Thus, one way to eradicate poverty, save mothers, and save infants is to prevent child marriage. It is no wonder preventing child marriage is a leading strategy for development organizations, human rights organizations and even the World Bank. In 2006, India passed the Child Marriage Act which states, “This legislation is armed with enabling provisions to prohibit child marriages, protect and provide relief to victims and enhance punishment for those who abet, promote and solemnize such marriages” (pg 1).

Against the proven results: maternal mortality and infant mortality rates have declined since the inception of the Child Marriage Act, Muslim organizations in Kerala have decided to approach the Supreme Court to ask that Muslims be exempted as it “violates the fundamental right to practice their religion”!!!

While providing no evidence that child marriage is “fundamental” to our religion, the absence of which would “violate” our ability to practice—since there is no such evidence—let me at least attempt to objectively describe the process of history and culture as it might lead to such a misconception. (more…)

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