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The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (Council on Foreign Relations Book) Paperback – August 22, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

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. At its heart, Sharia "aspires to be Law that applies equally to every human, great or small, ruler or ruled," Feldman writes. Of course, he argues, a radical rethinking of the classical model is in order if the system is to be implemented successfully in a contemporary Islamic state, but, if it fails, "the alternative may well be worse." The book is compelling as a theoretical exercise, but its usefulness is restricted by Feldman’s failure to confront practical considerations such as the rights of women.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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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Product Details

  • Series: Council on Foreign Relations Book
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114804X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148045
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Noah Feldman is currently Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard University. Esquire named him among 75 influential figures for the 21st century and New York magazine designated him as one of three top "influentials in ideas." In 2003, he served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and subsequently advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of an interim constitution. Feldman is the author of four previous books: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (2008); Divided By God (2005); What We Owe Iraq (2004); and After Jihad (2003); as well as numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Lee L. on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before I started reading through The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, tried to also read through several reviews of the book to get a sense of what criticisms were out there. The handful of reviews on Amazon tended to be negative and I made note of the criticisms levied against Feldman. After reading the book, I can't help but notice that Feldman is being criticized for things he didn't say or that the main point of the book is being misrepresented (at least by reviewers here).

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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S Zafar Iqbal on October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
I am glad I finally bought this book, despite the surprisingly negative reviews I had had the misfortune of reading.

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.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Enjolras TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Feldman proposes a brief yet interesting history of Islamic constitutional law. He suggests that a corpus of Islamic legal scholars helped provide a meaningful check against executive power. However, "Westernization" reforms have led to unbridled executive power and marginalized Islamic scholars to issues of family law. Feldman then proposes how a current Islamic state might function with Islamic scholars playing a larger role than merely being confined to family law.

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.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Roxana on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It appears Feldman, has stayed true to his scholarly understanding of what Islam is all about, and has not been overtaken by present time demonization of Islam. In reality Islam is modification on Judaism , while accepting the best of Christianity. Saudis, Talaban and Alghadeh are not Islam. They are every thing that Islam negated. Gilded palaces of Saudi Family is not Islamic, restricting women and covering them head to toe is not Islamic, worshiping money is not Islamic. What you see in Islamic world today is Christianity before Renaissance . Islam needs to be rescued from corrupt leaders of the countries committing crimes in the name of Islam. Feldman is well aware of this and has done his research well.
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