February 13, 2015 By Shameer.KS

Politics for Future to Come

wael hallaq


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

By Wael Hallaq

Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order

By Salman Sayyid

On the heels of Francis Fukuyama’s two books about political order, which maintains, even after the renowned author’s so-called spurning of neo-conservatism, that a strong, modern political order can ensure stability and rule of law; many books have started to be quickly off the shelf, which offer alternative political models and paradigms. As for Fukuyama, the failure of the Bush Administration in not ensuring a just political order in Iraq after the war was its own intrinsic administrative failure, not the failure of the liberal capitalist world order in which the administration had been anchored. So the gaps can be plugged by Obama, or, should he fail again, his successors. De-colonization is the focus of a set of books that aim to offer alternative analyses, as the neo-liberal political order is predicated upon the zest of the west for the wealth of the nations being colonized and plundered in the name of modernity and rule of law.

These books exploit theoretical tools advanced by the likes of Heidegger, Derrida, and Schmitz etc. Of these, deconstruction has been relied on the most, as it offers radical criticism of, as well as deferment from giving deference to, the status-quo for a better future to come. In his Culture and the Death of God, Terry Eagleton casts aspersions on deconstruction as offering an uncertain future in the phony post-modern promise of a yet-to-come future. But in our craving of certainty, which can be another name of quietistic withdrawal from political activism, the powers-that-be have anchored justification for their power and interventions. This certainty has been lofted up to the creedal status by none other than Samuel Huntington in his latest work denouncing deconstruction.

recalling the caliphateOne of the most interesting features of the works written from the alternative perspective is that they dare to question the secularization thesis lying under the superstructure of the liberal political order. We can see the kind of paradigm shift offered by the intellectuals in the left like Mahmoud Mamdani and Noam Chomski on the one hand, in the works of liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff, and in the radical rereading of political theories for the sake of affirmative ethical values in the Islamic politics by the likes of Salman Sayyid and Wael Hallaq, both of whom are the focus of this review.

Simply put, Wael Hallaq’s thesis in his The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament is that modern state as we experience now is by nature coercive, and authoritative as it is a base founded on the superstructure of those values which the western metaphysics inherited from materialism and economic determinism. By secular we rarely mean an administrative process not favoring a particular religious framework, but we mean values and assumptions of a few elites who want to bypass ethical limits set by religions to nonchalantly exploit maximum resources in the nature. According to Hallaq, Islamic state, if it aims to achieve the paradigmatic mode of ruling and governance offered by the Prophet Muhammad and subsequently by the Caliphs and adumbrated by Shariah – which constructive thinking of the medieval jurists developed in due process after many-faceted and multi-layered interpretations, is an oxymoronic expression. The projects of Islamic state advanced by many modern movements and clearly expressed in alternative economic structures like Islamic finance don’t achieve anything but replacing one set of state-centric order with another. Hallaq’s analysis is worth our consideration in the light of neo-liberal policies pursued by Islamist parties (notably including that of Recep Tayeb Erdogan) and advanced by Islamist activists.

According to Hallaq, in lieu of advancing an alternative Islamic state, Islamic political movements have a key role to play in today’s political order: “The moral quest of modern Islam, which reflects the continuing commitment of today’s Muslims to the central domain of the moral, finds its equivalent in the slim yet resounding voices of the MacIntyres, Taylors, and (even liberal) Larmores of the Western world. But this resemblance, nay commonality, is neither coincidental nor fortuitous, because all these voices —Muslim and Christian, Eastern and Western— are responding to the same moral condition. The paramount questions therefore remain: Can these forces, on all sides, transcend their ethnocentricity and join ranks in the interrogation of the modern project and its state? Dwelling together on earth in peace is certainly a tall order, perhaps another modern Utopia, but subjecting modernity to a restructuring moral critique is the most essential requirement not only for the rise of Islamic governance but also for our material and spiritual survival. Islamic governance and Muslims have no monopoly over crisis.” (Hallaq: 119)


Whereas the central domain in Hallaq’s work is moral, it is ethical which Salman Sayyid’s Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order brings into focus. According to Sayyid, moral is transient in nature. “Ethical can invalidate any existing moral conduct by showing that the practice of morality in a specific context produces what can be understood as immoral outcomes.” Punishment for theft under circumstances brought about by poverty is unethical and the punishment as such remains moral conditioned upon contingent factors. From this emphasis on ethical that Sayyid imagines a Caliphate, which is by and large a paradigmatic order without colonialism and the coercive assertion of the self over the other. “Ethical has potential to trump the moral and ethical impulse in Islam makes ummatic morality provisional and potentially able to be subverted in the name of Islam to come.” Though he suggests as Hallaq asserts that an ethical Islamic state is impossible, he maintains that the impossibility entices a pragmatic action, as he imagines a yet-to-come Islamic Caliphate as an ethical ideal to trump all moral state orders conceived in the name of Islam. We can read Derrida’s critique of Democracy in similar vein. In a typically deconstructive fashion, Derrida said that democracy is yet to come and it is in the name of democracy to come that we will be able to question all de-facto democracies. Derrida’s assertion about the impossibility of justice should also be read in context. Sayyid’s words that Caliphate is not an ethical institution but an institution in which there is the recognition of its ethical deficit come out as the critical statement in the book.

The chapter titled hermeneutics in Recalling Caliphate is critical in the whole book, as in it the author motivates us to read, understand and perceive the Quran as an ethical text (read the text in such a way as to foreground the ethical over the moral). Two approaches we take to reading the Quran that he questions in the book are both atomistic (selecting individual verses in separation, instead of reading the text as whole, to justify particular standpoints) and that of theological privileging (subsuming the true meaning under the intention of God, while suspending interpretations as having relative value). While atomism and the centering of moral over ethical are to be perceived with critical candor so as to preclude the possibility of turning the Caliphate authority into something one might see in xenophobic versions of Islamic state as in Saudi Arabia, our analysis as well as the teasing out of problems, motivated by our reading of the Quran, should transcend being relative. “In the absence of knowing if our interpretations of the Quran are correct or not, we have communal conventions to guide us.” “Quran should not be made law for it has to remain above law to ensure that law is just.”

Much of Sayyid’s analysis has drawn energy and motivation from Martin Heidegger’s difference between Ontic and Ontological. Simply put, ontic is the plain, observable, factual day-to-day existence or Dasein (being in the world) and ontological is an ongoing process to search for meaning in existence by delving deep into the very being of Dasein. In a Eurocentric public space, which demands us to read Fukuyama more, the scandal of Islam-the term Salman Sayyid employs to see how the Islamophobic public space proscribes political paradigm shifts into Islam might prevent many readers from taking Wael Hallaq or Salman Sayyid seriously. But living under political orders maintained by wholesale economic exploitation, limiting of capital in a few hands, disregard for environment and narcissistic self-aggrandizement demands serious reading of the book, as ultimately they try to answer the same problem that Eagleton posed in the above-cited book: ‘What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that our forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is a solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.”




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