The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State

Posted in Broader Middle East | 08-May-08 | Source: Council on Foreign Relations

A CFR Book. Princeton University PressApril 2008200 pagesISBN 978-0-691-12045-4$22.95

Perhaps no other Western writer has more deeply probed the bitter struggle in the Muslim world between the forces of religion and law and those of violence and lawlessness than Noah Feldman.

His scholarship has defined the stakes in the Middle East today. Now, in this penetrating book, Feldman tells the story behind the increasingly popular call for the establishment of the sharia—the law of the traditional Islamic state—in the modern Muslim world.

Western powers call it a threat to democracy. Islamist movements are winning elections on it. Terrorists use it to justify their crimes. What, then, is the sharia? Given the severity of some of its provisions, why is it popular among Muslims? Can the Islamic state succeed—should it?

Feldman reveals how the classical Islamic constitution governed through and was legitimated by law. He shows how executive power was balanced by the scholars who interpreted and administered the sharia, and how this balance of power was finally destroyed by the tragically incomplete reforms of the modern era. The result has been the unchecked executive dominance that now distorts politics in so many Muslim states. Feldman argues that a modern Islamic state could provide political and legal justice to today’s Muslims, but only if new institutions emerge that restore this constitutional balance of power.

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State gives us the sweeping history of the traditional Islamic constitution—its noble beginnings, its downfall, and the renewed promise it could hold for Muslims and Westerners alike.

Reviews & Endorsements

Read Noah Feldman’s interview with Harper’s magazine.

“[A] thoughtful meditation on the history, ideals, and revival of sharia ... a persuasive and readable book on a complex topic. The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State will have a broad and eager audience.”
Christian Science Monitor

“In Feldman’s fascinating intellectual journey through history, Islamic law, and modern politics, you will discover the power of ‘justice.’ It is both the driving force behind efforts in the Arab world to democratize, constitutionalize, and modernize Islam, and a weapon for the worst kind of abuses and authoritarianism. Feldman’s book works through these tensions between theology and power with consummate dispassion and scholarship.”
—Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and former New York Times columnist

“Noah Feldman has raised a central discussion in Islam about the nature of the Islamic state that is too often missed or misunderstood. Regardless of ideological or religious affiliation, the reader needs to engage with Feldman’s clear and sympathetic arguments in order to make sense of what is happening in the Muslim world today.”
—Akbar S. Ahmed, American University

“Scholarly and sophisticated yet highly accessible, this book makes an extremely important contribution to contemporary discussions of both Muslim politics and Islamic law. Feldman’s work provides a historical depth that has often been lacking in studies of law and constitutionalism in modern Muslim societies.”
—Muhammad Qasim Zaman, author of The Ulama in Contemporary Islam