Saturday, July 28, 2012

Does the sharia deserve its bad reputation, asks Sameer Rahim reviewing Heaven on Earth by Sadakat Kadri

 


Heaven on Earth: a Journey Through Sharia Lawby Sadakat Kadri; 332pp, Bodley Head, t £16.99 (PLUS £1.25 p&p) Buy now from Telegraph Books (RRP £18.99, ebook £9.99).

In February 2008 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, delivered a lecture called “Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective”. The title sounded innocent enough, but the archbishop’s comments on the Islamic legal code – or sharia – drew much feverish comment. From some of the media coverage you would have thought the head of the Church of England had called for Songs of Praise to be replaced by live whipping of adulterers. His lecture envisaged that in some cases Islamic personal law regulating finance, marriage and minor disputes could be dealt with by voluntary arbitration panels run by clerics or scholars, similar to the way Jewish Beth Din courts already work.
All this sounds perfectly reasonable. But what the archbishop didn’t consider was what kinds of pressures some British Muslims – in particular women – might come under to sort out their problems at the mosque rather than take advantage of the protection of British law. And what about the thorny issue of what exactly the sharia is: who defines it and who enforces it?
Sadakat Kadri’s lively, yet scholarly, book Heaven on Earth attempts to unravel these questions. Kadri is an ideally positioned guide: born in London to a Finnish mother and Pakistani father, he is a barrister and the author of an acclaimed history of criminal justice in the West.