Translating ‘Sharia’ for a Contemporary American Audience


Recently, I interviewed Joseph Lowry, formerly a practicing attorney and now translator of al-Shāfi‘ī’s The Epistle on Legal Theory (the Risālah), part of the growing Library of Arabic Literature. Lowry talked about translating “sharia” for a contemporary audience:

ArabLit: How do you think your new translation of al-Shāfi‘ī’s Epistle, a ninth-century text, fits into a twenty-first century debate on the place of “sharia” law in US courts?

imagesJoseph Lowry: For a variety of reasons, Islamic law is something that has wandered into the popular consciousness. It’s something many people seem to have heard of, and about which people have various ideas. Most of them, not surprisingly, are inaccurate. But some of these mistaken impressions of Islamic law are impressions that are understandable based on the world we live in.

So maybe what I should say is this: There’s a long tradition of highly technical and also intellectually very interesting legal…

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