The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East

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Overview

In the year 1000, the economy of the Middle East was at least as advanced as that of Europe. But by 1800, the region had fallen dramatically behind--in living standards, technology, and economic institutions. In short, the Middle East had failed to modernize economically as the West surged ahead. What caused this long divergence? And why does the Middle East remain drastically underdeveloped compared to the West? In The Long Divergence, one of the world's leading experts on Islamic economic institutions and the economy of the Middle East provides a new answer to these long-debated questions.

Timur Kuran argues that what slowed the economic development of the Middle East was not colonialism or geography, still less Muslim attitudes or some incompatibility between Islam and capitalism. Rather, starting around the tenth century, Islamic legal institutions, which had benefitted the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, began to act as a drag on development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life--including private capital accumulation, corporations, large-scale production, and impersonal exchange. By the nineteenth century, modern economic institutions began to be transplanted to the Middle East, but its economy has not caught up. And there is no quick fix today. Low trust, rampant corruption, and weak civil societies--all characteristic of the region's economies today and all legacies of its economic history--will take generations to overcome.

The Long Divergence opens up a frank and honest debate on a crucial issue that even some of the most ardent secularists in the Muslim world have hesitated to discuss.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
Professor Kuran's book offers the best explanation yet for why the Middle East has lagged. After poring over ancient business records, Professor Kuran persuasively argues that what held the Middle East back wasn't Islam as such, or colonialism, but rather various secondary Islamic legal practices that are no longer relevant today.
— Nicholas D. Kristof
Foreign Affairs
This is a book to be not just tasted but chewed and digested. Instead of facile claims that Islam is the solution or Islam is the problem, readers get a detailed history of economic institutions in the Middle East as compared to those in the West. Kuran shows that the Islamic law and practices underlying Middle Eastern commerce worked well for a long time and were much more flexible than usually assumed. . . . Clearly presented quantitative data and illuminating anecdotes add up to a fine feast.
— L. Carl Brown
Economist
Mr. Kuran's arguments have broad implications for the debate about how to foster economic development. He demonstrates that the West's long ascendancy was rooted in its ability to develop institutions that combined labour and capital in imaginative new ways.
Milken Institute Review
The Long Divergence offers a pathbreaking analysis of why the flourishing premodern economies of the Islamic world fell into relative decline as Western Europe rose. And it explores the issue of whether conservative Islam is compatible with modern economic institutions. You'll be surprised by many of his conclusions.
— Peter Passell
Marginal Revolution
[The Long Divergence] explains a large part of why the Middle East and Turkey fell behind the West and law and economics has a lot to do with it. Various laws in Islamic societies were not conducive to large-scale economic structures, at precisely the time when such structures were becoming profitable and indeed essential as drivers of economic growth. This is not a book of handwaving but rather he nails the detail, whether it is on inheritance law, contracts, forming corporations, or any number of other topics.
— Tyler Cowen
Time.com's Swampland blog
In an interesting new book called The Long Divergence, Timur Kuran of Duke argues that Islam's economic restrictions, rather than its cultural conservatism or isolationism, stunted development in countries where it was the dominant religion.
— Massimo Calabresi
Independent
Kuran's thesis is contentious; but it does provide us with an incentive to reformulate Islamic law. It is an excellent starting-point for a debate long overdue.
— Ziauddin Sardar
Chicago Jewish Star
[G]round-breaking. . . . In this wide-ranging study, Kuran explores other possible factors which favored the non-Muslim business ethos over the Islamic one, but as a true scholar he rehearses other possible explanations.
— Arnold Ages
Sydney Morning Herald
A ground-breaking book. . . . Kuran argues Islamic law primarily failed to develop the concept of a corporation: an economic and legal construct, separated from family and tribal loyalty, designed to encourage investment and profit sharing.
— Chris Berg
EH.Net
Timur Kuran is an avid reader of Islamic economic and legal history and an immensely well informed scholar. This latest work not only combines his earlier arguments but also provides some new perspectives.
— Murat Cizakca
Choice
[A]n invaluable contribution to the debate.
MESA Bulletin
[T]his is a most informative book and may make contemporary Muslims wonder whether a forthcoming second codification of Islamic law should heed some of the warnings of the author.
— Murat Çizakça
Development and Change
Kuran deserves to be lauded for providing a narrative for how certain Middle Eastern institutions negatively affected economic outcomes. This book represents an advance in our understanding of the functioning of commercial institutions in the Middle East and of their dynamic consequences. . . . Kuran has provided an important scholarly resource for both academics and those interested in the economic and political development of the region more broadly.
— Eric Chaney
Digest of Middle East Studies
By eschewing simple explanations and challenging scholars to look at such heated topics as the Capitulations in a new light, Long Divergence offers a new window on an old dogma. In a time when there is a trend to blame much of the Middle East's problems on Western meddling, it is important that scholarship swims slightly against the current in shedding new light on questions of modernity and the reasons behind economic stagnation in the Muslim world.
— Seth Frantzman
Journal of Economic History
The Long Divergence is an excellent book that should be of great appeal to scholars interested in the Middle East and its history, economic historians interested in the general question of why some regions failed to modernize, and social scientists interested in the historical and institutional roots of comparative underdevelopment.
— Metin Cosgel
Perspectives on Politics
In this beautifully crafted book, Timur Kuran provides a remarkably rich analysis of how Islamic law impeded economic progress in the Middle East and North Africa. Kuran's views are fresh and powerful, and they are subtle.
— Jack A. Goldstone
New York Times - Nicholas D. Kristof
Professor Kuran's book offers the best explanation yet for why the Middle East has lagged. After poring over ancient business records, Professor Kuran persuasively argues that what held the Middle East back wasn't Islam as such, or colonialism, but rather various secondary Islamic legal practices that are no longer relevant today.
Foreign Affairs - L. Carl Brown
This is a book to be not just tasted but chewed and digested. Instead of facile claims that Islam is the solution or Islam is the problem, readers get a detailed history of economic institutions in the Middle East as compared to those in the West. Kuran shows that the Islamic law and practices underlying Middle Eastern commerce worked well for a long time and were much more flexible than usually assumed. . . . Clearly presented quantitative data and illuminating anecdotes add up to a fine feast.
Milken Institute Review - Peter Passell
The Long Divergence offers a pathbreaking analysis of why the flourishing premodern economies of the Islamic world fell into relative decline as Western Europe rose. And it explores the issue of whether conservative Islam is compatible with modern economic institutions. You'll be surprised by many of his conclusions.
Marginal Revolution - Tyler Cowen
[The Long Divergence] explains a large part of why the Middle East and Turkey fell behind the West and law and economics has a lot to do with it. Various laws in Islamic societies were not conducive to large-scale economic structures, at precisely the time when such structures were becoming profitable and indeed essential as drivers of economic growth. This is not a book of handwaving but rather he nails the detail, whether it is on inheritance law, contracts, forming corporations, or any number of other topics.
Time.com's Swampland blog - Massimo Calabresi
In an interesting new book called The Long Divergence, Timur Kuran of Duke argues that Islam's economic restrictions, rather than its cultural conservatism or isolationism, stunted development in countries where it was the dominant religion.
Independent - Ziauddin Sardar
Kuran's thesis is contentious; but it does provide us with an incentive to reformulate Islamic law. It is an excellent starting-point for a debate long overdue.
Chicago Jewish Star - Arnold Ages
[G]round-breaking. . . . In this wide-ranging study, Kuran explores other possible factors which favored the non-Muslim business ethos over the Islamic one, but as a true scholar he rehearses other possible explanations.
Sydney Morning Herald - Chris Berg
A ground-breaking book. . . . Kuran argues Islamic law primarily failed to develop the concept of a corporation: an economic and legal construct, separated from family and tribal loyalty, designed to encourage investment and profit sharing.
EH.Net - Murat Cizakca
Timur Kuran is an avid reader of Islamic economic and legal history and an immensely well informed scholar. This latest work not only combines his earlier arguments but also provides some new perspectives.
Development and Change - Eric Chaney
Kuran deserves to be lauded for providing a narrative for how certain Middle Eastern institutions negatively affected economic outcomes. This book represents an advance in our understanding of the functioning of commercial institutions in the Middle East and of their dynamic consequences. . . . Kuran has provided an important scholarly resource for both academics and those interested in the economic and political development of the region more broadly.
Digest of Middle East Studies - Seth Frantzman
By eschewing simple explanations and challenging scholars to look at such heated topics as the Capitulations in a new light, Long Divergence offers a new window on an old dogma. In a time when there is a trend to blame much of the Middle East's problems on Western meddling, it is important that scholarship swims slightly against the current in shedding new light on questions of modernity and the reasons behind economic stagnation in the Muslim world.
Journal of Economic History - Metin Cosgel
The Long Divergence is an excellent book that should be of great appeal to scholars interested in the Middle East and its history, economic historians interested in the general question of why some regions failed to modernize, and social scientists interested in the historical and institutional roots of comparative underdevelopment.
Perspectives on Politics - Jack A. Goldstone
In this beautifully crafted book, Timur Kuran provides a remarkably rich analysis of how Islamic law impeded economic progress in the Middle East and North Africa. Kuran's views are fresh and powerful, and they are subtle.
Global History - Ghislaine Lydon
The Long Divergence is a bold and stimulating book, based on a prodigious amount of research in world economic history. It is the first work of its kind to wrestle with the big question about the Middle East's economic path. . . . Though it may stir up controversy among those who may not take well to his critique of Islam, this landmark study will find a broad readership to debate its provocative conclusions.
MESA Bulletin - Murat Çizakça
[T]his is a most informative book and may make contemporary Muslims wonder whether a forthcoming second codification of Islamic law should heed some of the warnings of the author.
From the Publisher

"By eschewing simple explanations and challenging scholars to look at such heated topics as the Capitulations in a new light, Long Divergence offers a new window on an old dogma. In a time when there is a trend to blame much of the Middle East's problems on Western meddling, it is important that scholarship swims slightly against the current in shedding new light on questions of modernity and the reasons behind economic stagnation in the Muslim world."--Seth Frantzman, Digest of Middle East Studies

"The Long Divergence is an excellent book that should be of great appeal to scholars interested in the Middle East and its history, economic historians interested in the general question of why some regions failed to modernize, and social scientists interested in the historical and institutional roots of comparative underdevelopment."--Metin Cosgel, Journal of Economic History

"In this beautifully crafted book, Timur Kuran provides a remarkably rich analysis of how Islamic law impeded economic progress in the Middle East and North Africa. Kuran's views are fresh and powerful, and they are subtle."--Jack A. Goldstone, Perspectives on Politics

"The Long Divergence is a bold and stimulating book, based on a prodigious amount of research in world economic history. It is the first work of its kind to wrestle with the big question about the Middle East's economic path. . . . Though it may stir up controversy among those who may not take well to his critique of Islam, this landmark study will find a broad readership to debate its provocative conclusions."--Ghislaine Lydon, Global History

"[This book] is a major achievement that should be read by everyone with an interest in the region, as well as by scholars in economic history and institutional economics."--Mark Koyama, Public Choice

Publishers Weekly
Kuran (Islam and Mammon), a Duke University professor of economics and political science, continues his exploration of Islam and economics in a dense volume that debunks the most common apologies for the economic plight of the Middle East, such as colonization, or the economic importance of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Kuran argues instead that the failure of Middle Eastern economics is not due to Islam itself, but to the fact that Muslims failed to reinterpret previously successful economic concepts at the onset of the Middle Ages, while the West went on to create the corporation (see InProfile in this issue). Muslims may demur, but Kuran points out that many have abandoned some Qur'anic economic practices they disagree with, including the ban on interest, and, more progressively, they have updated and refreshed the tax code described in the Qur'an. His most controversial argument is that Islam, liberated from stagnant interpretation and practice, is very adaptable to modern institutions. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691156415
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/11/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 950,859
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Timur Kuran is professor of economics and political science and the Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. He is the author of "Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism" (Princeton).
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

PART I Introduction
Chapter 1: The Puzzle of the Middle East's
Economic Underdevelopment 3
Chapter 2: Analyzing the Economic Role of Islam 25

PART II Organizational Stagnation
Chapter 3: Commercial Life under Islamic Rule 45
Chapter 4: The Persistent Simplicity of Islamic Partnerships 63
Chapter 5: Drawbacks of the Islamic Inheritance System 78
Chapter 6: The Absence of the Corporation in Islamic Law 97
Chapter 7: Barriers to the Emergence of a Middle Eastern Business Corporation 117
Chapter 8: Credit Markets without Banks 143

PART III The Makings of Underdevelopment
Chapter 9: The Islamization of Non-Muslim Economic Life 169
Chapter 10: The Ascent of the Middle East's Religious Minorities 189
Chapter 11: Origins and Fiscal Impact of the Capitulations 209
Chapter 12: Foreign Privileges as Facilitators of Impersonal Exchange 228
Chapter 13: The Absence of Middle Eastern Consuls 254
PART IV Conclusions
Chapter 14: Did Islam Inhibit Economic Development? 279

Notes 303
References 349
Index 393

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 23, 2011

    WELL WRITTEN ANALYSIS

    Nicely written analysis explaining the progression of Islamic law. Early Muslim period rests on assumptions of traditions and consensus. Hence, it remains guesswork. Sometimes confuses cause and effect, in particular in its treatment of the effect of the inheritance laws on the economy. It essentially argues a self-fulfilling prophesy of the author. Instead, more focus should have been given to the anti-mercantile belief system that emerged 200 years after Muhammad and which is in stark opposition to the teachings in the Koran. It focuses on the business side, which is instead an effect of the underlying motivational factors to achieve material success.
    A.J. Deus, author of The Great Leap-Fraud - Social Economics of Religious Terrorism

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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