Understanding Sharia – Islamic Law in a Globalised World. By Raficq S Abdulla and Mohamed M Keshavjee. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London and New York. 2018. Pp321. HB. $40.63.

LONDON - This is a valuable book thoroughly researched to help explain and understand the meaning of the Sharia, which has been a source of misinterpretation, misunderstanding and misconception in both the Muslim and non-Muslin worlds.

This work gives the reader a valuable introduction not only to the Sharia but also Its origin and historical development as well as providing valid arguments for its status in the contemporary world.

The authors, Raficq Abdulla and Dr Mohamed Keshavjee, very experienced British-trained Lawyers, argue that Sharia is a legal system underpinned by ethical principles and the positive law flowing from it, know as fikh, have never been an exclusive legal system or a fixed set of beliefs.  Their critique is not intended to be controversial or polemical or even partisan. Their intention is to give the reader the opportunity to reconsider the nature and reality of Sharia in the contemporary world where Islam is often misunderstood.

There was a gap in understanding Sharia law and this book provides a significant and simple explanation to a topic that has provoked a heated debate among Western scholars and knowledgeable lawyers of Muslim jurisprudence.

This book provides a brief definition of Sharia and the eight schools of law in Islam (Madhahib). It also provides the reader with the multiple manifestations of Sharia and the many unacceptable rulings that offend Muslims themselves especially as they are made in the name of their faith.

In a time when the very notion of the Shariah has been attracting negative responses and misinterpretations, the authors have succeeded in explaining, in simple language, that Sharia is a legal system underpinned by ethical principles that is open to change in different circumstances and contexts.

Sharia is covered in its Sunni and Shi’i manifestations as well as in its relationship to the contemporary world while avoiding any polemic but encouraging debate and ijtihad (thriving- Also the act of reflection in legal matters).

The book also highlights customary practices based on cultural norms followed by some Muslims but have nothing to do with Sharia law but perceived to be part of it including female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and crimes of honour. These practices are considered un-Islamic and have no place in Sharia law or the overwhelming majority of Muslim societies. They offend liberal thoughts, natural justice and basic human rights.

Muslim Countries like Morocco and Tunisia have overcome the prejudices towards  Women and have outlawed any discrimination. Morocco even went further by introducing Murshidats (Women religious councillors) who, after training in jurisprudence, advise women on all related matters regarding Sharia and religious practices. This is part of the Ijtihad recommended in the Quran and in line with human rights practices.

The understanding of Sharia is not soley attached to a framework of rules that were developed in earlier times and have failed to evolve adequately to be relevant to modern concerns. The authors rightly suggest that to appreciate and value Sharia’s wider remit  one should raise the question of whether Muslims need to initiate a new world view based on a reformed theory, thinking and sense of identity- an extremely difficult, if not perilous task for any society - but possible with ijtihad bearing in mind the new technologies that have become part of every day life.

A number of relevant questions were also raised by the authors and need a thought-provoking and pragmatic debate.

This is a valuable work for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand and reflect on various aspects of the Sharia and its evolutionary nature and the different interpretations since the advent of Islam. The readers have access to good references to follow through to satisfy their intellectual curiosity.

This is a serious informative and enlightening book for those looking to acquire knowledge of an impartial and thought-provoking perspective on the meaning of Sharia and its multifaceted Sunni and Shi’a’ manifestations in modern Muslim and non-Muslim societies.

This book is a welcome and much needed resource for those concerned and interested in Islamic matters and want to deepen their understanding of how Sharia works. It certainly provides a useful overview of a subject that has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted.    Ali Bahaijoub