Author(s): Noah Feldman
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.
Winner of PROSE Awards: Government & Political Science 2008.
The growing clamor for a return to Sharia law in the Muslim world has often been met with alarm by the West. But Feldman remains coolheaded, placing the movement in a historical context and suggesting that its ideal of 'a just legal system, one that administers the law fairly,' is an understandable goal in a region dominated by unchecked oligarchies. -- "New Yorker In a short but masterful exposition, The Fall and Rise of The Islamic State, Noah Feldman seeks to answer a question that puzzles most Western observers: Why do so many Muslims demand the 'restoration' of a legal system that most Occidentals associate with 'medieval' punishments such as amputation for theft and stoning for sexual transgressions? -- Malise Ruthven, New York Review of Books In a short, incisive and elegant book, [Feldman] lays out for the non-specialist reader some of the forms that Islamic rule has taken over the centuries, while also stressing the differences between today's politican Islam and previous forms of Islamic administration. -- "The Economist [A] concise and thoughtful history of the evolution of the Islamic legal system from the time of the first caliphs (the successors to the prophet Muhammad) to our own...Feldman thinks that the restoration of the authority of sharia in modern Muslim-majority nations might be the only way for them to move beyond their current democracy deficits...Feldman is not so naive as to give them a free pass. Nor does he ignore the democratic deficiencies of the two nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, that have sharia as the law of the land. While saying that principles of sharia will have to become part of the constitutional fabric of modern Islamic states, he adds that this will work only if Islamists find new institutions to give life to sharia. -- Jay Tolson, U.S. News & World Report Whether you agree or disagree with Professor Feldman about what constitutes an Islamic state, you will most likely be captivated by the author's scholarly reflections. -- Abdullahi A. Gallab, Journal of Law & Religion A thoughtful meditation on the history, ideals, and revival of sharia--the divine law governing Muslim society... It is abundantly clear that fresh models of governance in some Muslim nations will be required to build genuine consensus, afford legal justice, and guarantee peace and security... Feldman predicts success for those countries which can 'develop new institutions that would find their own original and distinctive way of giving real life to the ideals of Islamic law.' ... A persuasive and readable book on a complex topic. -- Joseph Richard Preville, Christian Science Monitor Feldman condemns the autocracies in many Muslim countries but argues that sharia is not to blame. On the contrary, he says, in the traditional Sunni constitutional order, sharia was interpreted by an independent class of scholars who served as a check on tyrrany, preventing rulers from exploiting religion to justify their political positions. -- "Washington Post Book World Feldman can be an illuminating analyst ... on the subject of the marginalization of legal scholars and its consequences for the development of despotisms with an Islamic face. -- "Commentary Feldman argues that legislators seeking implementation of a sharia-based rule of law can play the role of earlier scholars in taming executive autocracy... [Offers] wide-ranging discussions and nuanced reasoning. -- L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs [An] excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion on Islam and secular states. -- Abdulkader Tayob, International Affairs A study of the recrudescence of 'Islamist' thought, which advocates the return to a shari'a state... The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State is profound, intelligent, and free of all the hysterical pronouncements one often associates with both the defenders and antagonists of that idea. -- Arnold Ages, Chicago Jewish Star This is a fascinating book for the counselor and statesperson, and is a sequel to a former book dealing with Islam and democracy. -- Imtiaz Jafar, New York Law Journal Powerfully argued and original... [T]his book has the considerable merit of seeing inside the Islamist mentality. -- Anthony Black, Political Studies Review The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State provide[s] an accessible and engaging account of the institutional struggles and changes which befall Islamic constitutionalism from the Ottoman era to the present... [T]he book intended for both academic and non-academic audiences makes a valuable contribution to the existing literature on Islamic law and constitutionalism. -- Shadi Mokhtari, Law and Politics Book Review
Noah Feldman is the Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is also a contributing writer for the "New York Times Magazine" and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of "Scorpions, What We Owe Iraq", and "After Jihad".