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Codification and Islamic Law: The Ideology Behind a Tragic Narrative

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This article repositions historigraphically a particular thesis in Islamic legal studies that characterizes Islamic law as utterly incompatible with codification, and by implication the modern administrative state. This article departs from that argument by situating codification efforts in Muslim majority polities alongside other efforts at codification, specifically 19th century Germany and the United States. The article shows that the thesis of incompatibility relies on a constricted reading of the “Islamic”, an overdetermined conception of the state, and an under-appreciation of the populist-cum-democratic ideology that animates the thesis in the first place. A more fruitful way forward is to reify the “state” rather than rarefy it as a theophanic specter. To better appreciate the relationship between Islamic law and codification, the argument suggests, requires that scholars attend to the “state” while resituating the history of the “Islamic” in terms of a history of the “legal”.

Affiliations: 1: University of Toronto,


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