April 17, 2008
Religion, Politics and Law in Contemporary Islam: Three Recent Titles for Law Library Collections
1. The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State by Noah Feldman
List Price: $22.95
Hardcover: 200 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 3, 2008)
Book Description: 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.
About the Author: Noah Feldman is professor at Harvard Law School. He is a contributing writer for the "New York Times Magazine" and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Divided by God, What We Owe Iraq (Princeton), and After Jihad.
2. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im (Harvard UP, 2008), recently featured on LLB here.
3. The Ulama in Contemporary Islam: Custodians of Change by Muhammad Qasim Zaman
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Princeton University Press; New Ed edition (February 5, 2007)
Book Description: From the cleric-led Iranian revolution to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, many people have been surprised by what they see as the modern reemergence of an antimodern phenomenon. This book helps account for the increasingly visible public role of traditionally educated Muslim religious scholars (the `ulama) across contemporary Muslim societies. Muhammad Qasim Zaman describes the transformations the centuries-old culture and tradition of the `ulama have undergone in the modern era--transformations that underlie the new religious and political activism of these scholars. In doing so, it provides a new foundation for the comparative study of Islam, politics, and religious change in the contemporary world.
While focusing primarily on Pakistan, Zaman takes a broad approach that considers the Taliban and the `ulama of Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, and the southern Philippines. He shows how their religious and political discourses have evolved in often unexpected but mutually reinforcing ways to redefine and enlarge the roles the `ulama play in society. Their discourses are informed by a longstanding religious tradition, of which they see themselves as the custodians. But these discourses are equally shaped by--and contribute in significant ways to--contemporary debates in the Muslim public sphere.
This book offers the first sustained comparative perspective on the `ulama and their increasingly crucial religious and political activism. It shows how issues of religious authority are debated in contemporary Islam, how Islamic law and tradition are continuously negotiated in a rapidly changing world, and how the `ulama both react to and shape larger Islamic social trends. Introducing previously unexamined facets of religious and political thought in modern Islam, it clarifies the complex processes of religious change unfolding in the contemporary Muslim world and goes a long way toward explaining their vast social and political ramifications.
About the Author: Muhammad Qasim Zaman is Robert H. Niehaus '77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of Religion and Politics under the Early Abbasids and the editor, with Robert W. Hefner, of Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education (Princeton).
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