The Impossible State

The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity's Moral Predicament

Wael B. Hallaq
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/hall16256
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  • Book Info
    The Impossible State
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53086-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    The argument of this book is fairly simple: The “Islamic state,” judged by any standard definition of what the modern state represents,¹ is both an impossibility and a contradiction in terms.

    Until the early nineteenth century, and for twelve centuries before then, the moral law of Islam, the Sharīʿa, had successfully negotiated customary law and local customary practices and had emerged as the supreme moral and legal force regulating both society and government. This “law” was paradigmatic, having been accepted as a central system of high and general norms by societies and the dynastic powers that ruled over them. It...

  5. 1 Premises
    (pp. 1-18)

    The proposition that a modern Islamic state is impossible and even a contradiction in terms contains at least two hidden questions that must be stated at the outset. First, if this state is inconceivable, then, one might ask, how did Muslims, having in the past commanded a great civilization and built many empires, rule themselves? What form of governance did they practice? And second, with this impossibility in mind, what type of political rule are Muslims presently adopting or likely to adopt in the future? The second part of the latter question, with the predictions it involves, is not integral...

  6. 2 The Modern State
    (pp. 19-36)

    Kant once said that even a band of devils can found a state, “provided that they have only the necessary intelligence.”¹ Despite Kant’s legitimate point about the requirement of reason, he can still be corrected on this count, to judge by the empirical evidence in both recent and historical political experience. A state of this minimalistic nature, whether or not led by a misguided or devilish band, can never be modern in the true sense of the word. It cannot be paradigmatic, nor can rationality be its sole prop. The modern, whatever meaning we assign it, is always connotative of...

  7. 3 Separation of Powers: Rule of Law or Rule of the State?
    (pp. 37-73)

    If sovereign will is a historically produced phenomenon, and if its expression is the law, then the modern state, in important structural ways, is historically the embodiment of the law. In order for law to represent this will, which is its end, it must be backed up by coercion. We have also seen, and it will become increasingly obvious in the following chapters, that through the sovereign will’s legal manifestation the state does not stand independently of culture. In other words, the state produces and thus possesses its own community. By these definitions, Kelsen (who argued for the identity of...

  8. 4 The Legal, the Political, and the Moral
    (pp. 74-97)

    In the previous chapter, we saw that the claim of good government within the bounds of the modern state is weakened upon a closer examination of its constitutional organization. Insofar as the rule of law is concerned, paradigmatic Islamic governance has little to learn from its modern counterpart, given that the nature of the separation between and among the legislative, executive, and judicial powers in Islam was a more accurate embodiment of the meaning and purpose of such separation and clearly superior to what obtains in the paradigmatic modern state. When considering the effects of this highly meaningful rule of...

  9. 5 The Political Subject and Moral Technologies of the Self
    (pp. 98-138)

    Every society, be it tribal, urban, or otherwise, knows and integrates into its structures one form of discipline or another. No society can live without an ordering apparatus that, by necessity, requires some type of discipline. But disciplinary forms are as numerous as the societies that live by them. Their multiplicity notwithstanding, all but one share a common characteristic, namely, their organic constitution. All but one developed over many centuries or even millennia, allowing social, spiritual, moral, economic, and “political” factors to blend in slowly and even imperceptibly, creating in the process internal systems of checks and balances that were...

  10. 6 Beleaguering Globalization and Moral Economy
    (pp. 139-154)

    Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Islamic governance has become fully established. Let us suppose that the minimal conditions for such a creation have been satisfied, including, but not limited to, the following: (1) the establishment of a divine sovereignty in which God’s cosmic moral laws are translated, as a system of moral principles, into practical “legal” norms; (2) a robust separation of powers where the legislative—thediscovererof said practical “legal” norms—is fully independent, genuinely representing the source of all laws of the land; (3) the legislative and the judicial powers are woven from...

  11. 7 The Central Domain of the Moral
    (pp. 155-170)

    Modern Islamist discourses assume the modern state to be a neutral tool of governance, one that can be harnessed to perform certain functions according to the choices and dictates of its leaders.¹ When not used for oppression, the machinery of state governance can be turned by leaders into a representative of the people’s will, determining thereby what the state will become: a liberal democracy, a socialist regime, or an Islamic state implementing the values and ideals enshrined in the Qurʾān and those that the Prophet had once realized in his “mini-state” of Medina. The modern state is then seen by...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-214)
  13. Glossary of Key Terms
    (pp. 215-220)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-244)
  15. Index
    (pp. 245-256)