The Common Good

In the Stacks, August 14, 2012

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Photo by Tischenko Irina/
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

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Here is my pick of this week’s books.

‘Heaven on Earth’

By Sadakat Kadri, Reviewed by Mohamad Bazzi

“In recent years, America has succumbed to a peculiar form of Shariah-phobia. According to this narrative, covert jihadis are working to usurp the law of the land and replace it with Islamic rule. A caliphate will rise on the ashes of the Constitution, Americans will be forced to pray in mosques and judges will mete out stonings and amputations. …”

In “Heaven on Earth,” a carefully researched history of how Islamic jurisprudence has evolved since the seventh century, Sadakat Kadri challenges the notion that Shariah is based solely on cruelty and punishment. He explains how the body of law developed alongside different strains of Islamic thought — tolerance versus intolerance, forgiveness versus punishment, innovative versus literalist. Kadri argues that over the past 40 years, governments that aspired to instill an Islamic identity have imposed austere interpretations of Shariah, ones that run counter to a millennium of transformation and universality. Rulers — especially in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan — favor a literalist approach and are obsessed with punitive aspects of the Koran. But Kadri contends that the laws have historically skewed toward moderation and malleability. “No interpretation of the Shariah has ever been timeless, and Islam has never been doomed to insist otherwise,” he writes. “Islamic jurisprudence has not spent the past 1,400 years opposed to change; it has been defined by it.” …

“Kadri, an English barrister and author of “The Trial: A History, From Socrates to O. J. Simpson,” writes with a breezy, witty tone and excels at synthesizing Islamic scholarship for a general reader.”

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