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Book Review

In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam
Maher Hathout with Uzma Jamil,
Gasser Hathout & Nayyer Ali


Muslim Public Affairs Council Publication, 2006
USD 12.95, pages 485
(Available for purchase in Amazon.com)


This book is a deliberate attempt by Dr. Maher Hathout and his co-authors that discusses plethora of contemporary humanitarian issues within the Islamic framework and what Muslims would consider acceptable discourse within Islamic jurisprudence - including human rights, freedom of belief, status of women, non-Muslims, and right to utilize savings (i.e. capital) etc.


While discussing the fate of Bani Qurayzah, a Jewish tribe of Medina where 700 men were supposedly declared to be killed by pronouncement of a Muslim after the collapse of a Makkan siege that took place two years after Uhud, the authors cite that in all the battles that the Prophet (Pbuh) fought the combined death toll was less than 1000, it is unlikely that the Qur’an would have been silent on such a major episode. This argument certainly raises reader’s eyebrows because the book challenges if this episode was in fact true since there are no contemporary records or Qur’anic verses to support this story.


With regard to the payment of the jizya, it was symbolic acceptance of Muslim rule by the non-Muslims who had actually fought against the Prophet (Pbuh), and it included monetary compensation of some kind. In later times, this was levied to non-Muslims in lieu of providing military service to the state. Extending its meaning today, the authors argue that it means a formal public acknowledgement of legitimate authority of the government by its citizens that should not distinguish non-Muslims from Muslims in an Islamic state, by being asked to “prove” their obedience through special payments.


Muslim territories are not the only “safe havens’ in the world today, contrary to the expectations of classical jurists. In fact, migration has lately tended to be in the opposite direction, away from Muslim countries towards non-Muslim ones, in the 20th century. After the fall of colonist rule in British India, there was a significant migration of South Asians to Britain, mostly for economic and educational opportunities. This theme is also reflected during the Prophet’s (Pbuh) life, when he sanctioned the hijra to Abyssinia, a land which was ruled by a Christian king. In both cases, non-Muslim territories offered greater security and safety to Muslims, although for different reasons.


In regards to the status of women, the authors argue not so much an insistence on absolute equality of rights based on biological function, but on the flexibility and choice that both men and women should have in determining how to live their lives as fellow citizens and members of society. The book certainly challenges the perception that assigns all responsibility for the restrictions placed upon Muslim women in some countries, without delving into what exactly Islam sets out as the rights of women - including inheritance rights, marriage and divorce, polygamy, equality before the courts, dress code, travel and political participation.


There are also two amazing appendices in the book - Our approach to Qur’an and our approach to Hadith. While the approach to Qur’an focuses on overarching themes & principles in the Qur’an and tremendousness in its breadth and scope, the approach to hadith sets as a guiding principle to identify Prophet’s (Pbuh) true example and to apply correctly, which are often fraught with difficulties and discord.


This book is an outcome of a carefully researched project and the authors have done their due diligence in providing various references to this great work. This book is ideal for anyone who likes to conceive the notion of what progressive thinking and reform actually mean within the context of Islam and willing to make a difference in the society.


Note: Islamic Voice can sponsor few copies of this book for free to non-profit libraries, organizations and institutions in India that cannot afford to buy this book. E-mail editor@islamic voice.com with proper references. Limit one copy per request.