Jurists in most Muslim countries continue in their rulings to hew to antiquated formulations of Islam, enforcing a crippling separation of the Muslim world from modern, globalized states that rely on secular law to guide their relations with the outside world.
Islam and the Everyday World, consisting of eight chapters written by an array of specialists, attempts to discuss the problems that this dynamic creates over a spectrum of policy areas such as economics, banking, human rights, taxation, family, labor, and commercial law.
Behind the diversity of the book's subject material is a common theme of Islamic atavism as the source of the problem in relations between the West and the Muslim world. Behdad's article, "Islam, Revivalism and Public Policy," aptly summarizes the Islamic approach: Rather than endeavor to come to grips with modernity and Western industrialism, Islamic thought instead looks to the golden age of Islam to animate its understanding of the world.
Even during the caliphate period, however, the various interpretations of Shari‘a made consistency a problem. In many cases, litigants had the choice of selecting a judge based upon the madhab (school of law) system. This problem has continued into modernity, and as Karen Pfeiffer shows, the competing interpretations of Islamic law regarding labor are a severe hindrance to any successful application of labor law.
While the general tone of the book is critical of the classical Islamic approach, there is some hope to be gained from Volker Neinhaus, who observes that the erstwhile monopoly that traditional jurists have had on guidance and interpretation is being challenged by Muslim social scientists and economists. Ann Mayer's observation that the 1979 Iranian constitution was basically an attempt to Islamize Western ideas of constitutionalism evidences that, despite their professed "occidentophobia," even the most fanatic Islamist thinkers realize that progress can only be achieved by adopting Western law.
Given the foregoing observations and William Ballantyne's astute summation that there ought to be a new ijtihad (interpretation) to address the interaction between Shari‘a and Western law, it is rather strange that the book contains chapters from only Western-based academics. The book would be markedly more beneficial if it featured contributions from thinkers within the Muslim world.