Islamist political movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, make the adoption of sharia—the law of the traditional Islamic state—a crucial plank in their political platforms. Given the severity of some of the law's provisions, why has this call for sharia helped Islamist political movements from Algeria and Palestine to Afghanistan and Pakistan succeed in so many elections throughout the Muslim world? Can the Islamic state succeed where Islamists are being elected? CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Noah Feldman's new book, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, seeks to answer these questions through a new interpretation of Islamic constitutional history.
Feldman reveals how the classical Islamic constitution was informed and legitimated by law and shows how executive power was balanced by the scholars who interpreted and administered sharia. The introduction of a legislature and a written constitution and the eventual abolishment of the caliphate—political and religious leaders who stood in the prophet's stead—effectively removed the system of checks and balances maintained by the scholars. But the reforms of the modern era were tragically incomplete, and in this vacuum the power of the executive grew at the expense of law and justice. The result is now the unchecked executive dominance that distorts politics in so many Muslim states.
It is in this void of political justice that the calls for the reestablishment of sharia are finding renewed interest. Feldman examines what these new Islamic states currently look like and what their prospects are for success. He argues that a modern Islamic state could work, but only if new institutions emerge that restore a constitutional balance of power to the government.
The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State provides the necessary background to address questions of how the Western world should respond to the growing popularity of the Islamist movement and whether democracy and the Islamist state are truly compatible.
A Council on Foreign Relations Book