What Is the Sharia?

March 2018 9781849048170 256pp


In the West, ‘sharia’ often calls to mind antiquated laws founded upon gender discrimination and barbaric punishments. In the East, for some it means the ideal standards by which Muslims strive to live; for others, it is the greatest obstacle to modernisation of their societies. These clashing views sometimes lead to violence. Clarification of the term has therefore become an urgent necessity.

Sharia is all of these things and much more. It is the legal system of Islam, a series of guidelines and prohibitions. But it is also a concept invested with a whole range of meanings, from the virtuous attributes of an ‘ideal’ society, to the confinement of particular elements to otherness and adversity.

Moving through history, society and Islamic thought to explore the sources of sharia law, Baudouin Dupret gets to the heart of its uses and abuses in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This short, accessible book provides an invaluable guide for those seeking to understand a matter more complex and pressing today than ever before.


‘This book is an excellent work to understand the sociopolitical contexts of development of Shari’a and its transformation into a state-legal framework.’ — Digest of Middle East Studies

What is the Sharia? is an insightful work … [Dupret’s] writing is clear, succinct, and intended to reach a large audience beyond experts in Islamic studies. … A must read!’ — The Beirut Forum

‘This is a highly accessible and incisive introduction to Shari’ah studies that is not only important to students and teachers alike, but is also the perfect antidote to the deluge of asinine publications on Shari’ah that flood the field.’ — Professor Abou El-Fadl, Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law, UCLA

 ‘Provides an extensive argument for an understanding of the Sharia as a historically contingent concept … a masterful study [and] essential reading for advanced seminars on Islam and modernity.’ — Religious Studies Review

‘An excellent primer, clear and precise.’ — Ziauddin Sardar, editor of Critical Muslim and author of Reading the Qur’an

‘Just when Western society—academia especially—looks to have surrendered to a convenient Sharia, Dupret ushers in an epistemological unravelling of the concept… Combining continental legal and social science approaches, Dupret points to the fallacies of ‘Islamism’ and confronts the ideological realities born out of the ‘Arab Spring’ … This book should be required reading for both graduate students and scholars in the field.’ — Malik R. Dahlan, Professor of International Law and Public Policy, Queen Mary University of London and Principal of Institution Quraysh for Law & Policy

‘An important book, contributing to a better theoretical and contextual understanding of the concept of the Shari’ah, especially in these times of gross misunderstandings. An essential read for both academics and practitioners interested in the subject.’— Mashood A. Baderin, Professor of Laws, SOAS University of London.


Baudouin Dupret is educated in Law, Islamic Sciences and Political Sciences. He spent many years as a CNRS researcher in Egypt, Syria, and Morocco. He has published extensively on sociology and anthropology of law, and on legislation in the Middle East and North Africa, including the co-authored Law at Work.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.