Review of the Book ''The Politics of Islamic Law'' by Iza R. Hussin
The paradox, for Hussin, lays in the fact that the institutional marginalisation of Islamic law at the hands of the colonial state was readily, and cunningly, accompanied by its symbolic centralisation. The result was a near-demise of whatever was known as pre-colonial Islamic law (which, in a way, is a restatement of the Hallaq thesis on the death of post-classical sharīʿa) and the concomitant rise of local Muslim elites as the custodians of hybrid colonial and postcolonial Islamic legal regimes, which resembled little, if at all, the Islamic law of the past.
By drawing attention to the performative power of Islamic law, Hussin takes seriously its ongoing salience in politics across the Muslim world. Recent scholarship, most notably Wael Hallaq’s Impossible State (2012), have focused on showing how Islamic law has been gutted of its pre-modern logics. While Hussin largely concurs with Hallaq’s story of radical transformation, she is less concerned with detailing what Islamic legal cultures have lost than in understanding the logics they have acquired in their place. Hussin shows that this new politics of Islamic law, while wrought with contradictions and ambiguities, is at least as influential as earlier Islamic legal forms. Her work therefore argues for the need to understand contemporary constructions of Islamic law not just as misrepresentations of past practice but also as symbolic nexuses for defining Muslim subjects and their relationship to modern states. This is a powerful argument, and should attract attention across a range of academic disciplines and regions of study. The book, while scholarly in tone, also deserves attention from non-specialists with its lucid insights into questions that top global headlines.
Hallaq, Wael B. (2012). The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament. New York: Columbia University Press.