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Book Review
A thorough study on Fiqh
By Yoginder Sikand

Title of the Book: Compendium of Islamic Laws
Publisher: All India Muslim Personal Law Board, 76A/1, Okhla Main Market, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi-25
Year: 2001
Price: Rs. 70
Pages: 193

The vexed issue of Muslim personal law in India has been greatly complicated by the lack of a standard, codified body of laws to which all schools of Sunni jurisprudence might agree. This book, the work of some of the leading Indian Sunni ulama, is thus a welcome development. Initiated by the Board's founder secretary-general, the late Maulana Minnatullah Rahmani, it is the outcome of the collaborative efforts of numerous Indian Islamic scholars, mainly of the Deobandi school. Although it does not fully take cognizance of the several complex issues that are today being raised with respect to the Muslim personal law, both in India as well as elsewhere, and thus hardly meets the expectations that many reformists would have hoped for, it is a step in the right direction, providing a base from which alternative positions on the intricacies of Islamic law may be argued.

The book is divided into six sections: the law of marriage; the law of divorce, the law of gifts; the law of bequests; the law of inheritance; and the law of waqfs. Each section is divided into several sub-sections, each dealing with a particular aspect of the Islamic law. The stamp of the Hanafi fiqh is clearly apparent throughout, particularly in the section on the law of marriage. Thus, both women and men are given the right to choose their own partners, but the preferred form of marriage is said to be between equals or with one's own 'kufu'. However, if a woman marries someone below her own status, her guardians have been given the right to have the marriage dissolved. In contrast to the Qur'an's repeated insistence on the radical equality of all believers, the document lays down that 'Regard shall be had in respect of descent among the Arabs, especially the Quraish, and those non-Arab families who have preserved descent'. Somewhere the Qur'an states that an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab and vice versa, and that it is only one's piety that counts in God's eyes. The document's understanding of kufu seems to be a gross violation of this commandment, but the contradiction is conveniently ignored.

The section on the law of divorce deals at length with the contentious issue of triple talaq and maintenance of divorced women. No advance is made on the standard Hanafi fiqh position on the matter, so much so that the more progressive Ahl-I-Hadith position is ignored. Thus, the triple talaq is allowed for, although it is not recommended. A talaq by a drunken man or a talaq made in jest are also held to be effective. Women's maintenance is to be limited to the iddat period. Thus, the compilers of this document seem to have taken no notice of contemporary debates on women's rights in Islam, not even of new interpretations of Islamic law that are both more gender-sensitive and more in keeping with the essentially egalitarian impulse of the Qur'an.

Like the sections on the law of marriage and divorce, the other sections deal with the minutiae of the fiqh, and are of interest only to a specialist. For a general reader the book provides an overall perspective on the nitty-gritty of the personal law as it has come to be developed by the Hanafi ulama. Although the book claims to be, in its own words, 'a section-wise compilation of the rules of the shariat', it fails to make a distinction between the shariat, the Divine law, on the one hand, and fiqh, or the human interpretation of the Shari'at, on the other, although it is almost entirely based on the latter.

Then again, while claiming to be 'based on the most authentic principles of Islamic law', it is essentially a compilation of the views of the ulama of the Hanafi fiqh, and, therefore, cannot be said to represent all Muslims in general.

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