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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
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 Feldmans failure to confront practical considerations such as the rights of women.
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
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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. Most important figures in Sunni Islamist parties aren't trained religious scholars and it is unlikely that they would want a system in place where trained scholars have a check against their power. The most prescient point in all of this is that these Islamist parties must be given the chance to come to power and fail before their appeal diminishes.
Criticizing Feldman for producing a short book is also a relatively pointless exercise here. He in no way claims to definitively tackle this issue in its entirety. Rather, the book provides an excellent starting point for a complex subject. No one book could adequately handle the magnitude of the origins, evolution, and future of the shari'a, but Feldman gives us a great place to start.
The basic premise behind Noah Feldman diagnostic of the current failure of most Islamic States is trying "to establish themselves as legal states in the twin senses of being justified by law and governing through it".
In summary he basically states that the failure of current governments was the loss of checks and balances given by Scholars through the codification of the law and its interpretation into written codes.
While he extends quite on the reasons behind the failure, I feel he doesnt quite elaborates much into the possible ways to the formation of a new Islamic Model State. The main proposition lays of the re-establishment of the legislature and the interpretation of it through the scholars and the judges.
The book definitely is thought-provoking and inspiring in tryind to find a new model for development that is compatible with democracy, tradition and theology.
He seems to have very good understanding of the way muslims think in the East.
He totally ignored the Muslim majority countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, some references to Pakistan not much, his unblinking focus is on Middle Eastern countries, which were carved by the west after fall of Ottoman Empire and WWII... another inaccurate assumption was about the objectives and the following of the Islamists- They are not moderate nor widely accepted by the Muslim majority. Iran is a different case.
He tried in vain to discuss The Fall and Rise of Islamic State in less than 200 pages, of course real history, reasons and facts cannot be fit into small space like this... Imagine how Islamic Iraqi Constitution would be which he helped white house to write for Iraqis... WOW
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