Why is the term shari’a―the mention of which conjures up images of a politicised religion in many parts of the world―understood in the ways that it is today? For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, much is read into this term, often with scant regard for its historical, cultural or theological underpinnings. The politics of identity has a profound effect on contemporary life, both secular and religious, and this includes our understandings of the shari’a. Yet at the core of this concept, for Muslims, is the quest for a moral compass by which to navigate a path through life (Qur’an, 45:18), informed deeply by revelation and its interpretation by the Prophet Muhammad as well as his closest Companions.
Built on this foundation is an ongoing human endeavour to grasp and lend expression to that teaching―elaborately in law, but no less so in devotional, ethical and customary practices in diverse Shia and Sunni Muslim communities, including in the West. Popular myths about the shari’a ― that it is divine law, that it is contained in a single code recognised by all Muslims, that it is about controlling behavior, that it ‘defines’ Islam ― are challenged in this volume by leading scholars, with a view to illuminating how we arrived here and where we might be headed. The claims of the modern state as the custodian of the shari’a are put into perspective, alongside the vital role of a pluralist civil society.
From bioethics, human development, family law and finance to constitutional and human rights issues, this fifth volume in the Muslim Heritage Series offers an accessible account of the ideals and realities of the shari’a. As such, it will appeal not only to specialists in the humanities and social sciences, but also to the general reader with an interest in global affairs and informed citizenship.