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Reinterpreting Islam law

Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law:  A Fresh Interpretation by Mohammad Hashim Kamali,  Oxford University Press,  US $49.95,  Pp 452, June 2019, ISBN 978-0190910648

The mere mention of the word ‘sharia’ will evoke a strong dislike among most Westerners. The word ‘sharia’ is associated with severe punishments such as whipping, cutting of hands and feet, and stoning to death. This may be true but this is not all as many in the West may think. In the Muslim world, masses may see sharia or ḥudūd laws and punishment as the main feature of Islam and the Islamic revivalist agenda, there is a parallel movement that opposes their implementation. The issue of sharia laws is not simple.

In Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law, Mohammad Hashim Kamali says that there are many issues relating to the perception of Islamic laws in the Muslim world which is why the ḥudūd laws are generally not enforced, or enforced only selectively. Yet there is persistent debate over ḥudūd laws and even demand for their enforcement in many parts of the world. A number of Muslim countries and jurisdictions have consequently attempted to address ḥudūd -related issues, and those of Islamic criminal law generally, within their own set of possibilities and conditions, Islamic regimes that come to power as a result of a revolution or coup d’etat “need to demonstrate immediately that they are making a start on the construction of a real Islamic state by implementing Islamic criminal law.”

Mohammad Hashim Kamali says that ḥudūd laws have become increasingly politicized, and thus politicians often skirt around religious issues just as they stop short of exploring jurisdictional dimensions of punishment. The reticence of politics may also be due to their wish to not heighten concerns of non-Muslim segments of their populations. This has often meant that issues do not find effective responses, which is why it seems there are continuing debates about ḥudūd in many Muslim countries, some running over decades, without the emergence of clear responses. Misunderstanding and uncertainties tend to linger on. Critics even say that debates on ḥudūd laws are kept on the back burner until election time when they are revived because it is politically convenient. Juristic attitudes toward ḥudūd laws are also heavily influenced by the view that ḥudūd laws are determined by clear injunctions in the Quran and are therefore not amenable to juristic reconstruction and ijtihad. All of this has helped ḥudūd laws to remain as a mainstay of imitative scholarship (taqlid) such that even leading schools of law have balked at exercising original thinking and ijtihad over them. The issues at hand are longstanding and demand a blended approach that is informed by relevant factors, even venturing outside the jurisprudential aspects of a subject if the quest for relevant answers is to be meaningful and to advance out of the prevailing impasse over Islamic criminal laws in the Muslim world.

Mohammad Hashim Kamali has argued that Muslim countries and jurisdictions have generally shied away from the enforcement of ḥudūd punishments due to their apparent severity. Yet because of public sensitivities and politicization of the subject, parliamentarians, judges, and jurists have also not shown a willingness to depart from hallowed precedents in favor of a fresh and holistic understanding of Quranic dispensations on ḥudūd. This naturally makes the challenge of adjustment and reform even more difficult to address.

Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law is a welcome addition to the ever-growing scholarly literature on Islamic law and jurisprudence. With his multi-disciplinary approach, Mohammad Hashim Kamali revisits the present day theory and practice of sharia across the Muslim world. He also provides the context to current theory and practice of sharia in different Muslim countries and offers recommendations as to how to remove the visible contradictions in the legal systems of these countries. Among the moderate Muslims, Mohammad Hashim Kamali is considered one of the most important scholars of Islamic law/sharia and this is his best work. He provides new perspectives and approaches to understand sharia laws. Scholars and students of sharia and Islam and sharia must read this encyclopedic book.

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