PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE-The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament

Article excerpt

PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament, by Wael B. Hallaq. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. 256 pages. $37.50. Reviewed by Mark D. Welton

Readers familiar with Professor Wael Hallaq's earlier books and articles will not be surprised by the title of this most recent work. As Hallaq has long argued, the shari'a was a sophisticated and complex moral-legal project that served the Muslim communities exceptionally well for much of their history, but which collapsed under the weight of European colonialism and all its consequences, including the creation of modern states in the Muslim world. The foundations of the shari'a, especially the independent jurists who developed the doctrines of God's will as expressed in the sources of the law and articulated them for rulers and peoples alike, were swept away in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This destruction was total, and the resurrection of the classical shari'a is an impossible task.

In this short book, the author takes this historically-based argument and advances it in order to explain why, theoretically and philosophically as well as in practice, the existence and function of the modern state - a creation of the West - is inherently incompatible with the shari'a. The largest portion of the text is devoted to a postmodern critique of the modern state, and the pages are with short quotations from philosophers, sociologists, and other thinkers to support this analysis. The modern state is an amoral entity based on positivism that exists solely for its own perpetuation. In order to survive, it demands the complete adherence of its citizens, and concepts such as the rule of law and separation of powers are subordinate to, and ineffective constraints on, the political, cultural, economic, and legal instruments of the state's "will to power." There is no idea or goal greater than the survival of the state; the Is and the Ought are irreconcilable, and the latter has no relevance to the functioning of the state.

The shari'a admits of no such separation between the Is and the Ought. …