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The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament Hardcover – 21 Dec 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (21 Dec. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231162561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231162562
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 403,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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. -- Roxanne L. Euben, Wellesley College 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. -- Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject It is an important contribution to understanding the role and potential of the shari'a in the modern world. -- Mark D. Welton Middle East Journal A philosophical and rhetorical tour de force. Choice A refreshing take on the modern state and Islamic governance... Middle East Media and Book Reviews This book brings a detailed and impassioned exploration of key debates in Islamic law and governance into sustained conversation with canonical texts in Western political and legal theory... The Impossible State makes an important theoretical contribution. -- Iza Hussin Perspectives on Politics An important, bold, and courageous intervention that stands out not just in contemporary debates on the Shari'ah in the West and the Muslim world, but in all modern writing about the subject. American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences

About 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.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Zubair on 8 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
The thesis of this book is that "Islamic State" judged by any standard definition of modern state is `both an impossibility and a contradiction in terms'. It is asserted that moral-legal system based on divine sovereignty is essential for Islam as much as sovereignty is essential for the modern state. Therefore, there can be no Islamic state (p51). Hallaq argues that the paradigmatic `Islamic governance' does not differentiate between the legal, the moral, and the mystical. This makes it a misfit within the structure of not only the modern state but also the globalised world dominated by capitalism and corporations (pp137-8)

After setting its premises in chapter 1, chapter 2 sets out to define the Modern State. It is followed by chapter 3 which establishes contradiction and confusion in the theory of Separation of Powers in the first part of this chapter. In the second part, the author argues that the term "Islamic State" is anachronistic and rather prefers the use of "Islamic governance" for the historical phenomenon that has been described by other scholars as "Islamic State". He then describes the Islamic moral-legal system, which according to him, is based on complete separation of powers between the legislature and executive. He argues that Islamic "legislators"--muftīs represented the community and successfully put a check on rulers' powers. He challenges the thesis of Oriental despotism and ends this chapter with the assertion that "Shar`ī structures" provide for John Rawl's "well ordered society" in which citizens have a shared sense of justice (pp72-3).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful, bold, brilliant, epic -- A must read 15 Jan. 2013
By Roode_Afzah - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Philosophical, critical, moral, bold, 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 just 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, morally. Kinda like Ubik (#philipKdick #okNoOneActuallyGotThatReferenceDidThey?).

The Impossible State is about much more than Islamic law or Sharia -- that's a cool topic too, 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 our lives and govern ourselves. 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 (#Wolf #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 ***
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A great book 11 Jun. 2014
By Ryan Mahmoud - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thus is a great book and explains the difference between Shariah and the modern and why they are incompatible. They are incompatible because the modern state lacks moral foundations needed for Islamic governance. There are a few issues in the final chapter which I have criticised. For a comprehensive review, follow the link below where I discuss the book in detail on my blog.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Important but is it worth the effort? 16 Aug. 2014
By A. Paolini - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This contention of this book has enormous implications plus describing concepts and their implications for nations with large Muslim populations and Western nations. The author is Wael B. Hallaq is a scholar of Islamic law and Islamic intellectual history. He is currently the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. Obviously the editor of his book was too intimidated to suggest any changes to Hallaq's writing style which is so abstract and esoteric that one has to ponder almost every sentence to grasp its meaning. After a while, one's mind becomes numb and one questions whether continuing is worth the effort.
must read for anyone who suffers a sense of malaise in everyday life 21 Sept. 2014
By Heba Shams El-Din - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a book that takes courage to understand because it challenges all that we take for granted. For those who have a sense of discomfort this books will articulate your predicament. For those who feel the modern world is their oister
and an excellent critique of modernity from an Islamic perspective 25 Dec. 2014
By Kassey - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A challenging book. Well worth the read, and an excellent critique of modernity from an Islamic perspective.
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