Heaven on Earth A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World

Sadakat Kadri

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

0374168725

9780374168728

Hardcover

384 Pages

$28.00

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Some fourteen hundred years after the Prophet Muhammad first articulated God’s law—the shari‘a—its earthly interpreters are still arguing about what it means. Hard-liners reduce it to am­putations, veiling, holy war, and stonings. Others say that it is humanity’s only guarantee of a just society. And as colossal acts of terrorism made the word "shari‘a" more controversial than ever during the past decade, the legal historian and human rights lawyer Sadakat Kadri realized that many people in the West harbored ideas about Islamic law that were hazy or simply wrong. Heaven on Earth describes his journey, through ancient texts and across modern borders, in search of the facts behind the myths.

Kadri brings lucid analysis and enlivening wit to the turbulent story of Islam’s foundation and expansion, showing how the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings evolved gradually into con­cepts of justice. Traveling the Muslim world to see the shari‘a’s principles in action, he encounters a cacophony of legal claims. At the ancient Indian grave of his Sufi ancestor, unruly jinns are exor­cised in the name of the shari‘a. In Pakistan’s ma­drasas, stern scholars ridicule his talk of human rights and demand explanations for NATO drone attacks in Afghanistan. In Iran, he hears that God is forgiving enough to subsidize sex-change operations—but requires the execution of Mus­lims who change religion. Yet the stories of com­pulsion and violence are only part of a picture that also emphasizes compassion and equity. Many of Islam’s first judges refused even to rule on cases for fear that a mistake would damn them, and scholars from Delhi to Cairo maintain that gov­ernments have no business enforcing faith.

The shari‘a continues to shape explosive po­litical events and the daily lives of more than a billion Muslims. Heaven on Earth is a brilliantly iconoclastic tour through one of humanity’s great collective intellectual achievements—and an es­sential guide to one of the most disputed but least understood controversies of modern times.

REVIEWS

Praise for Heaven on Earth

"Eloquent . . . Thorough and admirable . . . Kadri’s background gives him a grounded and many-angled perspective on Islamic law. He finds a great deal to admire in it, and he is deft at dispelling myths . . . [A] colorful march through Islamic history and jurisprudence . . . [Kadri] explores these complicated issues with probity but also good humor."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"A carefully researched history of how Islamic jurisprudence has evolved since the seventh century . . . [Kadri] writes with a breezy, witty tone and excels at synthesizing Islamic scholarship for a general reader. He provides a lively intellectual history of Islam."—Mohamad Bazzi, The New York Times Book Review

"A vivid history of Islam . . . Kadri’s writing is full of elegance and wit."—The New Yorker

"Heaven on Earth is an evolutionary look at Islamic jurisprudence that is subtle, generous and—rather improbably—dryly hilarious . . . What makes this book so good isn’t just that it manages the odd feat of delivering a discriminating, magisterial history of shari‘a that’s also quite funny; it’s that its humor isn’t merely incidental. Kadri’s tone—gently skeptical, wittily deflationary, and most of all darkly delighted by the absurdities of history—is perfectly consonant with the substance of his project."—Gideon Lewis-Kraus, NPR.org

"Measured [and] accessible . . . With the enthusiasm for complexity of a practicing lawyer, and the empathy of one descended from devout Indian Muslims, Kadri embraces this most controversial of topics with humor, heart and hope."—Brook Wilensky-Lanford, San Francisco Chronicle

"Learned, level-headed, engaging, [Heaven on Earth] deserves praise on every front . . .  [Kadri] finds that the kinds of shari‘a now trumpeted by theocrats and militants always owe more to human arrogance than to divine inspiration."—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"A truly penetrating and provocative book."—Aatish Taseer, The Observer (London)

"[A] fascinating journey . . . Skillfully weaves history with travelogue to guide the reader into this most contentious and topical of territory . . . Kadri approaches these themes with unstinting humanity and intelligence, as well as great fluency."—James Mather, The Spectator

"This is a beautifully nuanced and incisive study of a subject beset by misunderstanding.  A timely and important achievement."—Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road

"Captivating . . . Heaven on Earth is an erudite and instructive book."—Ziauddin Sardar, The Times (London)

"Compelling . . . Admirably even-handed . . . [Heaven on Earth] greatly enriches our understanding of a much misunderstood subject."—Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times (London)

"If you are about to utter the word 'Islam' or 'shari‘a,' stop and read this book first. It’s a fascinating and often witty account of the evolution of the shari‘a through the ages and the way it’s practiced across the Muslim world now. I never thought legal history could be made into a page-turner. Kadri is a brilliant historian and an even better writer."—Mohammed Hanif, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes

"Illuminating . . . Intriguing and memorable . . . [An] intellectually nimble and rigorously researched book . . .  Kadri is a precise and stylish writer, as good on explicating abstruse arguments as he is at conjuring vivid scenes . . . Given how heated debates about shari‘a have become, and given how glancing the intellectual engagement with it is on the part of some of the most strident voices, this brave and sane book could not be more timely."—Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

"[A] brilliant and illuminating study . . . A gripping account . . . Kadri is far too subtle to either to mount an attack on shari‘a, or to defend it. He has demystified it . . . With tact and fine writing, [Kadri] has helped us to understand what shari‘a really is, and how it emerged, and that will do at least something to demolish prejudice."—Boris Johnson, The Mail on Sunday

"Lively, yet scholarly . . . Kadri is an ideally positioned guide."—Sameer Rahim, The Daily Telegraph

"An ambitious, accessible survey from the first notions of as conveying ‘the idea of a direct path to water’ in the time of Muhammad when no written form of the moral law yet existed . . . With occasional personal travel details added to an engaging scholarly history, Kadri offers a readable, useful companion to the Qur’an."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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1

Laying Down the Law
 

“Recite!” The disembodied voice echoed around the cavern. “In the name of thy God who created man from a clot of blood!” With those words, according to the Qur’an, all of humanity was instructed to submit to Islam, but the only person present was a forty-year-old Arab merchant named Muhammad, who reacted by looking around with astonishment. Although it was the holy month of Ramadan and he had come to the cave to meditate, he had never before experienced so uncanny an event. The order was then repeated—“Recite!”—as
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Sadakat Kadri

  • Sadakat Kardi is a practicing English barrister and qualified New York attorney, and the author of The Trial. He has a master’s de­gree from Harvard Law School and has contributed to The Guardian, The Times (London), and the London Review of Books, and he is the winner of the 1998 Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing. He lives in London
  • Sadakat Kadri Liz Mermin
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