Islam, the Modern State and Degrowth

A recent review and interview with Islamic scholar Wael Hallaq, author of The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament [New York: Columbia University Press, 2013], raises an interesting critique of the modern state from a Muslim perspective, claiming that the state’s hegemonic institutions and intellectual foundations have alienated two thirds of the world’s population, deprived us of organic ways of existence, eliminated moral accountability in governance, weakened community, promoted a fragmented individualism, and is destroying the natural world upon which we all depend.

Some might argue that the shift from agrarian to industrial societies was accompanied by a shift from hierarchical to egalitarian social and political models. But the fragmentation promoted by extreme individualism and “free” market fetishism has resulted in power imbalances in favour of the rich 1%, both owners of capital and their “rented” supporters in the media, education and politics.

Hallaq argues that the modern state’s technologies of the self are severely lacking in moral substance, and that the ethical human agency embodied in the long history of Islam, as well as that of Western enlightenment, has thus been undermined. “The relegation of the moral imperative to a secondary status and its being largely divorced from science, economics, law, and much else has been at the core of the modern project, leading us to promote or ignore poverty, social disintegration, and the deplorable destruction of the very earth that nourishes humankind, in terms of both material exploitation and value.” He adds: “whereas poverty, famine, and disease were in pre-modernity mostly the work of nature and therefore could not be helped, they are nowadays mostly man made. Capitalism, industrialism, and the resultant destruction of natural habitat are not the work of nature; they are the effects of so-called ‘progress’.”

The article notes that the book comprises a lengthy review of the relationship between Shari‘a and the modern state as methods of governance and is a sequel to his book “Shari‘a: Theory, Practice, Transformations”. One chapter deals with the capitalist and corporate challenges to any form of truly Islamic governance. It is likely of much interest to religious and philosophical specialists and the language of the review would seem to indicate that it could be difficult reading for non-philosophers [like myself]. 😉

Nevertheless, the material covered in this review and interview show that there are grounds for a dialogue with Muslims around degrowth’s critique of destructive modern social and industrial metabolism, and humanity’s efforts to find new (or restore old) ways of sustainable, ethical and moral governance, production and consumption.

Read the article here.

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One Response to Islam, the Modern State and Degrowth

  1. This is a very important article/book. Hallaq’s attention to the assumptions extant about the state and its singular and universal validity are in desperate need of elaboration and consideration.
    – Brewster

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