Abstract This paper is an introduction to the book Islamic family law in a changing world edited by professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im. The introduction offers an overview of the nature and development of Shari'a in general and a clarification of the context in which the terms Shari'a and 'Islamic Law' are used. Through a historical review the paper offers an introduction to why Shar'ia became confined to family law in many Islamic countries. An-Nai'm argues for the transformation of family law into a normative system under the guidance of modern notions of social policy as well as Islamic precepts, without a representation that Shar'ia (in the context used in this paper) is binding this transformation. This introduction clearly sets the basics for a whole reform project.