The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State


Perhaps no other Western writer has more deeply probed the bitter struggle in the Muslim world between the forces of religion and law and those of violence and lawlessness as Noah Feldman. His scholarship has defined the stakes in the Middle East today. Now, in this incisive book, Feldman tells the story behind the increasingly popular call for the establishment of the shari'a--the law of the traditional Islamic state--in the modern Muslim world.

Western powers call it a threat to democracy. Islamist movements are winning elections on it. Terrorists use it to justify their crimes. What, then, is the shari'a? Given the severity of some of its provisions, why is it popular among Muslims? Can the Islamic state succeed--should it? Feldman reveals how the classical Islamic constitution governed through and was legitimated by law. He shows how executive power was balanced by the scholars who interpreted and administered the shari'a, and how this balance of power was finally destroyed by the tragically incomplete reforms of the modern era. The result has been the unchecked executive dominance that now distorts politics in so many Muslim states. Feldman argues that a modern Islamic state could provide political and legal justice to today's Muslims, but only if new institutions emerge that restore this constitutional balance of power.

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State gives us the sweeping history of the traditional Islamic constitution--its noble beginnings, its downfall, and the renewed promise it could hold for Muslims and Westerners alike. In a new introduction, Feldman discusses developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other Muslim-majority countries since the Arab Spring and describes how Islamists must meet the challenge of balance if the new Islamic states are to succeed.


When empires fall, they tend to stay dead. The same is true of government systems. Monarchy has been in steady decline since the American Revolution, and today it is hard to imagine a resurgence of royalty anywhere in the world. The fall of the Soviet bloc dealt a deathblow to communism; now no one expects Marx to make a comeback. Even China's ruling party is communist only in name.

There are, however, two prominent examples of governing systems reemerging after they had apparently ceased to exist. One is democracy, a form of government that had some limited success in a small Greek city-state for a couple of hundred years, disappeared, and then was resurrected some two thousand years later. Its re-creators were non-Greeks, living under radically different conditions, for whom democracy was a word handed down in the philosophy books, to be embraced only fitfully and after some serious reinterpretation. The other is the Islamic state.

From the time the Prophet Muhammad and his followers withdrew from Mecca to form their own political community until just after World War I—almost exactly thirteen hundred years—Islamic governments ruled states that ranged from fortified towns to transcontinental empires. These states, separated in time, space, and size, were so Islamic that they did not need the adjective to describe themselves. A common constitutional theory, developing and changing over the course of cen-

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