In classical Islamic law, Hudud crimes are those committed against Allah and for which Allah has mandated punishments that man cannot alter. The schools differ on the precise definition, but Hudud crimes include apostasy, illicit sexual intercourse, some forms of theft, and drinking alcohol. Punishments for Hudud crimes are severe, but classical Islamic law insisted on high standards of proof that made convictions very difficult.

A new book from Oxford, Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: A Fresh Interpretation, by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, one of the foremost scholars of Islamic law writing in English today, argues for what he calls a “fresh” reading of the sources on Hudud offenses. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

In Crime and Punishment in Islamic Law: A Fresh Interpretation, Mohammad Kamali considers problems associated with and proposals for reform of the hudud punishments prescribed by Islamic criminal law, and other topics related to crime and punishment in Shariah. He examines what the Qur’an and hadith say about hudud punishments, as well as just retaliation (qisas), and discretionary punishments (ta’zir), and looks at modern-day applications of Islamic criminal law in 15 Muslim countries. Particular attention is given to developments in Malaysia, a multi-religious society, federal state, and self-described democracy, where a lively debate about hudud has been on-going for the last three decades. Malaysia presents a particularly interesting case study of how a reasonably successful country with a market economy, high levels of exposure to the outside world, and a credible claim to inclusivity, deals with Islamic and Shariah-related issues.

Kamali concludes that there is a significant gap between the theory and practice of hudud in the scriptural sources of Shariah and the scholastic articulations of jurisprudence of the various schools of Islamic law, arguing that literalism has led to such rigidity as to make Islamic criminal law effectively a dead letter. His goal is to provide a fresh reading of the sources of Shariah and demonstrate how the Qur’an and Sunnah can show the way forward to needed reforms of Islamic criminal law.

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