Nicholas Lezard, a literary critic, has a review of “Heaven on Earth: a Journey Through Shari’ah Law” which has been written by Sadakat Kadri. It does appear to be interesting (I’ve not read the book, just the review), so I’ll not comment too deeply upon it until I’ve finished reading it myself (then again criticism of a book from a position of complete ignorance is often the norm these days). Instead, I’ll draw out a few of the review comments and also add a few thoughts of my own on this topic.
So lets start with the fact that Sharia is truly weird at times …
Did you know that there are at least two places in Nigeria where the local appellate courts have ruled that a five-year interval is possible between conception and birth? This supposed offence against reason, however, is in fact an example of what Kadri calls “manipulated mercy”, because what the decree indicates is a desire to avoid stoning women who have become pregnant as a result of adultery or other illicit sexual activity.
Yep, lets not toss out the idea that stoning for adultery is immoral, instead just issue weird rulings so that the adultery is never a legal fact. You can obviously see what is going on here, decent honourable people recognise that stoning for adultery is immoral, but because this archaic rule is hammered in stone by their belief system, they instead bend the rules and avoid having to carry out a rather obviously barbarbic stoning.
Now, another key point to draw out from it all is the observation regarding the vast diversity of thought …
there is a wide split within Islam itself, between – and I put this in the broadest possible terms – those Muslims who believe in looking at things rationally and those who believe that our only business is to do God’s will, and don’t ask questions. (The question hinges on a theological dispute: was the Qur’an created by God, or had it always existed? The number of people who have died as a result of this quibble is beyond computation.)
Now that is indeed the essence of the issue, everybody in the belief system wants Sharia, but there is no consensus on the details, a considerable degree of diversity exists right across the various schools. There is a claim that they have an objective morality that has been decreed by Allah, but clearly they don’t, it is all very subjective and contains a considerable degree of variation that is driven by the manner in which specific thinkers within the different schools interpret vague poetical religious texts.
So in summary, looking at the review, it strikes me that this book is a well researched and well written book on what is a dry and complicated area, and if interested in where Sharia came from, how it developed and what is going on now, then this is the book for you. It comes in two parts – the first part is a history of the development of shari’a law from the 620s to the present day, and by doing so it also renders a history of Islam itself. It also explains the differences between the various schools of Islamic law. The second part then deals with current issues explaining how shari’a is being used to justify murder, suicide bombings and stonings … which perhaps in a nutshell tells you what is fundementally wrong about the entire concept, because any system of thought that leads to such justifications is seriously flawed.
One further though, the degree of honesty in this book means that it will be labelled “Blasphemous” from the viewpoint of some, but then that is perhaps a sign that it is a good book worth reading. Oh, and least you wonder, the author Sadakat Kadri, is a British barrister of mixed parentage. He also writes in the New Statesman (link to his articles there is here)