Too many palm fronds

More on Sadakat Kadri on sharia, this time in the New York Times.

Today the confusion, Mr. Kadri makes plain in “Heaven on Earth,” is how to interpret this wide-ranging series of edicts, some from the Koran and many others based on hadiths, which are reports about the Prophet Muhammad written more than a century after his death. Scholars have sets of interpretations; increasingly freelance jihadists have their own.

Of course they do, and that’s why questions about “how to interpret this wide-ranging series of edicts” are otiose. That was then, this is now, we have to come up with our own “edicts” based on reasons and subject to review and reform.

In his reading of the Shariah, he finds rationality and flexibility. His argument is with recent hard-liners who, he writes, “have turned Islamic penal history on its head.”

He is furious that fundamentalists “have associated the Shariah in many people’s minds with some of the deadliest legal systems on the planet.” He calls them traditionalists who ignore tradition. He is disgusted that warped opinions “are mouthed today to validate murder after murder in Islam’s name.”

It can be dangerous work for journalists and scholars to single out aspects of Islam for criticism. At times in this book you sense the author going well out of his way to lay down extravagant praise, like palm fronds, before proceeding with mild cavils.

Well you know what? If he’s afraid of the danger, he should have left the subject alone. It’s dangerous work for Maryam and Anne-Marie, too, but they do it anyway, without handing out any palm fronds of praise. If the only way Kadri felt he could do the book was by offering lots of flattery to protect himself, he should have chosen a different subject.

He was inspired to write this book, he says, by Sept. 11 and by the London bombings of July 7, 2005. (He was a commuter in London that morning.)

In the aftermaths he longed for answers to simple questions: “Where was the Shariah written down? To what extent was it accepted that its rules had been crafted by human beings? And what gave the men who were so loudly invoking it the right to speak in God’s name?”

Nothing. Nothing gives anyone that right. It’s a form of blackmail, and it’s bad. Turn your back on it.


  1. Dave J L says

    In his reading of the Shariah, he finds rationality and flexibility

    And others find legitimised bigotry and murder, and neither interpretation can ever be proved right or wrong – that’s the ineluctable problem with religious law (and indeed thought): to hell with them all and here’s to humanist ethics.

  2. says

    Exactly. The religious law purports to be given by a god who refuses to come back to discuss it. That will not do. It is a terrible arrangement – I think probably the worst that humans have come up with. Nobody has any business expecting humans to obey such a law.

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