Book Review: Orientalism and 'The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State'
Haider Ala Hamoudi
University of Pittsburgh - School of Law
September 10, 2008
Middle East Law and Governance: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2008
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2008-27
Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 08-46
Professor Feldman has provided in his latest book, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, a superficially positive account of Islamic history. He argues that the shari'a, the vast body of rules and norms developed by jurists on the basis of Muslim foundational text, operated in a manner in the medieval world that both legitimized and constrained the political authority, the Caliphate. He further maintains that the Islamist call for shari'a is to restore balance among competing institutions within the state and reinstitute the medieval rule of law in a modern context.
Despite the apparent sympathy, the work is reminiscent of the type of material that Edward Said so devastatingly critiqued in his seminal study, Orientalism, in which Said argued that in studying the East, the West could do little more than project its own reductive, exoticizing vision of an inferior East. Three Orientalist themes can readily be gleaned from Professor Feldman's book. First, the Muslim East is a monolith, and a single narrative can accurately encapsulate it relatively well. Second, the Muslim East is exotic, incapable of rule of law on more secular terms, necessarily turning to a world of caliphs and medieval jurists to develop a template on which to build rule of law themes. Finally, the Muslim East is obsessed with and nostalgic for its past. Islamists seek nothing more than the resurrection of classical glories in a modern context, the balance of modernity seems to have little affected their vision.
This review will reveal the manner in which these three Orientalist thematic constructions of the Muslim East are distorting in a manner that makes the Muslim polities unrecognizable to the Muslims who actually inhabit them.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: shari'a, rule of law, Orientalism, Islamic law, Islam, Muslim, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey
Date posted: September 14, 2008 ; Last revised: January 11, 2009