The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament

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Overview

Wael B. Hallaq boldly argues that the "Islamic state," judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both impossible and inherently self-contradictory. Comparing the legal, political, moral, and constitutional histories of premodern Islam and Euro-America, he finds the adoption and practice of the modern state to be highly problematic for modern Muslims. He also critiques more expansively modernity's moral predicament, which renders impossible any project resting solely on ethical foundations.

The modern state not only suffers from serious legal, political, and constitutional issues, Hallaq argues, but also, by its very nature, fashions a subject inconsistent with what it means to be, or to live as, a Muslim. By Islamic standards, the state's technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and today's Islamic state, as Hallaq shows, has done little to advance an acceptable form of genuine Shari'a governance. The Islamists' constitutional battles in Egypt and Pakistan, the Islamic legal and political failures of the Iranian Revolution, and similar disappointments underscore this fact. Nevertheless, the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama (Muslim clergymen).

Providing Muslims with a path toward realizing the good life, Hallaq turns to the rich moral resources of Islamic history. Along the way, he proves political and other "crises of Islam" are not unique to the Islamic world nor to the Muslim religion. These crises are integral to the modern condition of both East and West, and by acknowledging these parallels, Muslims can engage more productively with their Western counterparts.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

A philosophical and rhetorical tour de force.

Middle East Media and Book Reviews

A refreshing take on the modern state and Islamic governance...

Choice

A philosophical and rhetorical tour de force.

Roxanne L. Euben

This is a bracing, erudite, and compelling account of the moral, political, and structural features of Islamic governance and the modern state, as well as of the multiple incongruities that hamper any attempt to establish one in terms of the other. Wael Hallaq delivers a welcome rejoinder to much of the dogmatic bluster swirling around the subject of shari'a and the Islamic state. At the same time, he brings into sharp focus the often overlooked resources for reconceptualizing 'the modern project' from within both Islamic and Euro-American traditions of moral and political thought. The historical, theoretical, and political richness of this account makes The Impossible State a new standard against which any claims about the possibility of establishing Islamic governance in the contemporary world must now be evaluated.

Saba Mahmood

A provocative and wide-ranging rumination by one of the leading scholars of Islamic law, this book poses tough questions to champions and critics of shari'a alike. Wael Hallaq makes a powerful argument for the relevance of shari'a as a moral discourse while remaining critical of its compatibility with the modern state. The Impossible State is bound to elicit debate among scholars of Islam, moral philosophy, and modernity across the Western and non-Western divide.

Middle East Journal - Mark D. Welton

It is an important contribution to understanding the role and potential of the shari'a in the modern world.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231162562
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 12/11/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,011,394
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Wael Hallaq is the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and has previously taught at McGill University, where he was named a James McGill Professor in Islamic Studies. Hallaq's research spans several fields, including law, legal theory, philosophy, political theory, and logic, and his publications include Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations; An Introduction to Islamic Law; and Authority, Continuity, and Change in Islamic Law. His works have been translated into several languages, including Arabic, Indonesian, Hebrew, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, and Russian.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface and AcknowledgmentsIntroduction1. Premises2. The Modern State3. Separation of Powers: Rule of Law or Rule of the State?4. The Legal5. The Political Subject and Moral Technologies of the Self6. Beleaguering Globalization and Moral Economy7. The Central Domain of the MoralNotesGlossary of Key TermsBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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  • Posted January 14, 2013

    Philosophical, critical, moral, and brilliant, Wael Hallaq's The

    Philosophical, critical, moral, and brilliant, Wael Hallaq's The Impossible State is, in one word, epic. An essential read for everyone -- Muslim or not, "religious" or otherwise, whether you care about anything or nothing or post-apocalyptic Twinkies -- so much so that no discussion about, well, anything, really, can be absent of at the very least a recognition of the arguments put forth in Hallaq's latest book, whether you agree with him or not. "Modernity's moral predicament," as Hallaq calls it, penetrates to the core of everything we do, we are, we inhabit, we sense -- politically, socially, psychologically. Kinda like Ubik (#pKdick #NoOnGotThatDidThey?).

    The Impossible State is about much more than Islamic law/Sharia -- that's a cool topic, but this is not a history book or a work on a singular vein of legal thought. Rather, Hallaq questions the very bases upon which we live and govern our lives. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from Hobbes to Kant to Nietzsche to Foucault to Stiglitz to al-Ghazali to Asad to Abu El-Haj, The Impossible State is really about the underlying structure (weltanschauung) upon which our society, economy, and politic operates. Hallaq demonstrates that morality (and its absence) is not some vague, phantasmal force but a very real, epistemic, and systemic source which manifests itself, deeply and interdependently, throughout our philosophy, psychology, science, society, economics, and politics. The problems Islam and Muslims face today are everyone's problems, and they are not timeless: Hallaq takes apart our Western, modern conceptions of society and politics, right down to the Enlightenment itself. The state and its structures, Hallaq argues, should not be taken as a timeless given but instead as markers of a very young modern era in which economic, political, and narcissistic attitudes, more than justice and social harmony, persist as an integral part of our social and political structure.

    For anyone concerned at all with the world's continuing problems of violence and injustice, this is a necessary read. For anyone taking Columbia's Core Curriculum, or something similar, this is the perfect supplement (or necessary ingredient) to your so-called "liberal" education (haha). For anyone interested in law, politics, and social theory, this is a must. For anyone studying the Arab Spring, Islamic law/Sharia, or interested in the application of Sharia today, you cannot miss this book. 

    Everyone needs to read The Impossible State, but although Hallaq says in the Intro that The Impossible State is for the "common reader," be forewarned: it is "academic." It's a dense read (most of it consists of social/political/legal theory based on a wide range of comparative research) and it requires at least a cursory understanding of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers (and their critics) and a little bit of Islamic legal history (he tries to catch you up).

    Hallaq rips apart the modern structures some of us may take for granted like Jack-Nicholson-turned-Wolf eats deer (#okNoOneGotThatEither?), and for some this can be jarring. If at first you disagree with him, that's awesome -- but before answering your own questions about his work, first question why you are questioning yourself. Upon what assumptions ("paradigms") do you do so?

    ***Rated R: for academic violence, intellectually bloody Enlightenment-bashing, and disturbing suggestions that our world today is so marvelously screwed in the head ***

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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