Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2012


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3rd edition, Federation Press, 2011. 
ISBN 978 186287 819 8

When a book is in its third edition you know there is popular demand for it. When a book is found on the shelves of leading English, American as well as Australian law libraries you know it is of high academic standard. Whilst many books struggle to be both popular and academically respected, Jamila Hussain’s Islam: Its law and society is able to succeed on both counts.

To me, its strength lies in the author’s ability to effectively engage the reader. It is skillfully and succinctly written. The author’s meaning is readily attained and the content is always interesting. The effective use of contemporary examples and cases has been a feature of this book since the first edition. The examples Hussain highlights are fresh and their currency resonates with readers who may recall a case or event from media reports in recent years. Topics on which there are strongly contested views, such as polygamy, jihad, hudud penalties, and many others are well covered in an informed, balanced, but always analytical manner. For example, the chapter on polygamy provides a socio-historical context, cross-cultural comparisons, differences in scholarly opinions and cites the Qur’anic verses that make this possible. We are also given an overview of polygamy as a practice today across the Muslim world with specific examples of reformist legislation.

A second excellent feature of Hussain’s book is its coverage: fifteen chapters including Islamic jurisprudence, laws on war and peace, marriage, divorce, family life, inheritance, criminal law, commercial law, banking and women in Islamic law. The opening chapter on ‘Perceptions of Islam and Islamic law’ provides an ideal introduction as it identifies concerns about the ways in which non-Muslim Australians gain insight and knowledge about Islam and the cultural and religious stereotyping involved. This book goes a long way towards refuting stereotypes and debunking myths.

A third feature of the book that I especially appreciate is its Australian orientation. Whilst Hussain draws on materials and examples from across the world, she does not shy away from the Australian experience and perspective. When so much contemporary material on Islam comes from America and Europe, an Australian perspective is most welcome.

Hussain also provides the reader with an impressive reference list. This includes a comprehensive list of scholarly works by the main publishing houses as well as books, magazines and websites with wider appeal. In a similar vein, the glossary of Arabic terms will be useful to many readers.

In summary, I think this edition of Islam: its law and society is a must read for anyone seeking insight and knowledge on Islamic law. This includes students, legal practitioners, and scholars from all disciplines who need an Islamic perspective on a particular issue or on the complexity of Islam today. In this category I would especially recommend it to journalists.

Ann Black