Friday, July 28, 2006

Faith Restored: Reclaiming Islamic Jurisprudence - Review of Speaking in God's Name -- by Khaled Abu el Fadel

This is a phenomenal work, it presents the intersection of knowledge from three different dimensions that rarely come together, especially when addressing Islam. Khaled Abu el Fadel masterpiece, Speaking in the Name of God, builds on his deep knowledge of traditional Islamic jurisprudence, western thought on divergent topics such as philosophy, anthropology and linguistics and finally scientific research methods.

In this book Abu el Fadel sets about discussing basic fundamentals of the basic text of the Quran, he argues persuasively that the actual text of the Quran is authoritative whereas its interpretations are not necessarily so. Abu el Fadel proceeds to cover the concept of "agency" and the responsibilities that must be assumed by anyone who claiming to interpret Islam and produce responsa or "fetwa". A tour de force of traditional Islamic Jurisprudence is presented setting the rules of how a fetwa can be reached, rules of evidence, weighing of multiple or contradictory indications, method of reasoning and ultimately presentation of results or fetwa.

Sharia Law as presented by Abu el Fadel is a far more nuanced and complex legal code. It is very different from how it is commonly interpreted today in both the West and the Muslim World. A number of examples of Law from Saudi Arabia are presented in particular in relation to the restrictions imposed on women. Abu el Fadel presents the official Saudi Islamic rulings and sets about dissecting them in great detail and examining them under the microscope of traditional Islamic jurisprudence with its restrain and extraodinary care not to usurp the intent of God and force one's own will on Islam.

Abu el Fadel goes to the root of some of the "Hadith", Prophet Mohammad sayings, that have been used over the years to limit the role of women in Islam. Abu el Fadel presents, through detailed analysis of history and Islamic Jurisprudence, different versions of a specific Hadith that mandates duty of obedience on women towards their husbands. Abu el Fadel argues persuasively, with evidence that he established, that this commonly accepted Hadith is indeed fake. Abu el Fadel also presents the motives that could lay behind the number of fake Hadith's specially in relation to the split between Sunni and Shiite Islam. Consistent with his basic thesis Abu el Fadel, presentations and conclusions are reached through rigorous examination of all evidence, weighing of the evidence, balancing of the various factors in accordance with the established rules of Islamic Jurisprudence.

Khaled Abu el Fadel's modesty and "scientific humility" comes across in his restraint in drawing conclusions and in his constant attempts at presenting counter arguments to his own conclusions.  Abu el Fadel's  uses a tentative, non confrontational approach towards building up his conclusions. Abu el Fadel displays a tremendous example of what non authoritarian behavior is all about through his own care not to fall into the common trap that has become the standard approach to Islam today.