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Synopsis

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.


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