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The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (Council on Foreign Relations) Hardcover – March 23, 2008
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From The New Yorker
One of Economist's Best Books for 2008
Winner of the 2008 PROSE Award in Government and Politics, Association of American Publishers
"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 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
"[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
"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
"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
"[T]his book is an insightful work with many original and fresh ideas and arguments about the rebirth and rise of the Islamic state in the modern Muslim world which has gained momentum after the 'Arab Spring'."--Tauseef Ahmad Parra, Muslim World Book Review
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Top Customer Reviews
First and foremost, this is a book about the history of shari'a law. The book is comprised of three parts, dealing with the heyday of shari'a law, its decline during and after the late Ottoman period, and prospects for the future. A theme that runs through the book is that when the scholarly class successfully acted as keepers of the shari'a, they provided an important check to executive power. Over time, due to the effects of reforms and the integration of the scholarly class into the ruling executive's regime, unbridled and unchecked executive power became the norm. The shari'a as a result, became less a force for legitimate rule, and more of a specialized area dealing with family/civil matters.
The main premise of the book is not that most people in the Middle East want a return to shari'a law. Even this is a problematic basis for attacking Feldman here because he clearly distinguishes between what the shari'a was during its time of prominence, and what most people think of when they hear the word. Feldman also points out that what most modern Islamist parties aren't actually calling for the shari'a to be implemented in its traditional sense, but a system where scholars have a more subjugated role.Read more ›
Looking back at those reviews it seems quite obvious now, that some of the reviewers had not even bothered to read the book before commenting on it. Some of them were using the review to grind their personal axe against the author. One of the reviews was not even about the book, but was a direct personal attack on the author, verging on character assassination.
These reviews remind one of the medieval church's reaction to Copernicus and Galileo's ground-breaking ideas.
Coming back to the review: This book is a brilliant work of original scholarship. It offers a fresh perspective on the workings of the classical Islamic state, going back to the early days of Islam through the nineteenth century.
The book's core concept is that the Islamic state was based on the rule of law. The state was justified by law, was governed by law, and , as a result, was essentially a legal state. The book explains how the shari'a, as the unwritten Islamic constitution, was instrumental in shaping the traditional Islamic state over the centuries.
Most importantly, the book shines a new light on the role of Islamic scholars, the ulema, in the classical Islamic state, and highlights how they enjoyed a high degree of prestige and respect. It further elaborates how the Islamic scholars, as the acknowledged interpreters of shari'a, were able to keep the autocratic rulers beholden to the law/shari'a, and were, thus, instrumental in ensuring the supremacy of the rule of law in the Islamic state.
Not many people, not even Muslims, are aware of this aspect of the Islamic state.Read more ›
Feldman's book is short and does not provide enough evidence to support some of these claims. For example, he does not provide concrete examples of when scholars successfully opposed Sultans and won. He also relies a bit too much on conventional wisdom, such as the claim that most people in Islamic countries want sharia (even if translated into rule of law), which he does not show through polls. The book is a useful thought piece, which is precisely its purpose, but Feldman will need to gather more evidence to fully support his thesis.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I am a student of Islamic law. This is a required reading for us. The professor (an American Muslim) said he tries to choose works of a interesting author as class assignment. Read morePublished on September 30, 2012 by Methaya Sirichit
Although I'am a newbie in Islamic history and philosophy, the book overall becomes quite interesting describing some issues on current Middle East Governments and linking their... Read morePublished on October 8, 2011 by Jeyner Arango
If ever there was proof of the old French saying, "France is a land
of few writers and many readers, while America is a land of many
writers and few readers", this would... Read more
I would like to encourage anyone who buys this book to at least do yourself the favor of reading some standard historical works related to Islamic history, especially those parts... Read morePublished on November 8, 2008 by Kirk H Sowell
Algerian leader Houari Boumédienne said at the United Nations in 1974:
"One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. Read more
Repetitive, biased and sympathetic commentary about un-Islamic or so called Islamic regimes: caliphates, kingdoms and emirates of Sunni Muslim rulers of the past 14 centuries... Read morePublished on August 17, 2008 by Zahid Hussain