In this fascinating work, one of our most influential historians of Islamic law and society draws carefully elaborated and sure-to-be controversial conclusions about the merits of the premodern Islamic worldview and the problems of both modern Western and Islamic political thought. An important and thought-provoking work, it is sure to engender productive debate.Clark Lombardi, University of Washington School of LawThis 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 CollegeA 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 SubjectIt is an important contribution to understanding the role and potential of the shari'a in the modern world.Mark D. WeltonMiddle East JournalA philosophical and rhetorical tour de force.ChoiceA refreshing take on the modern state and Islamic governance...Middle East Media and Book Reviews
Wael B. Hallaq boldly argues that the "Islamic state," judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents, is both impossible and inherently self-contradictory. Comparing the legal, political, moral, and constitutional histories of premodern Islam and Euro-America, he finds the adoption and practice of the modern state to be highly problematic for modern Muslims. He also critiques more expansively modernity's moral predicament, which renders impossible any project resting solely on ethical foundations.
The modern state not only suffers from serious legal, political, and constitutional issues, Hallaq argues, but also, by its very nature, fashions a subject inconsistent with what it means to be, or to live as, a Muslim. By Islamic standards, the state's technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and today's Islamic state, as Hallaq shows, has done little to advance an acceptable form of genuine Shari'a governance. The Islamists' constitutional battles in Egypt and Pakistan, the Islamic legal and political failures of the Iranian Revolution, and similar disappointments underscore this fact. Nevertheless, the state remains the favored template of the Islamists and the ulama (Muslim clergymen).
Providing Muslims with a path toward realizing the good life, Hallaq turns to the rich moral resources of Islamic history. Along the way, he proves political and other "crises of Islam" are not unique to the Islamic world nor to the Muslim religion. These crises are integral to the modern condition of both East and West, and by acknowledging these parallels, Muslims can engage more productively with their Western counterparts.