Bernard Haykel

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The Dallah Albaraka Lectures on Islamic Law and Civilization, September 24, 2013. Bernard Haykel is Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia at Princeton University. The views expressed in this lecture are solely those of Professor Haykel.


The title chosen for this lecture is deliberately provocative and somewhat misleading. It is not meant to suggest that Islam, or Islamic law, has failed in some general or normative sense. Rather, the lecture will argue that the effort by modern Sunni Muslim Reformers, and their Islamist followers, to generate Islamic legal rulings has failed to achieve the political vision of a powerful and confident Islamic order. The Reformers’ political program has failed both because their interpretation of the law has proven inadequate to deliver on its promises and because the instrument through which they chose to impose this interpretation—the institution of the modern state—has proven inappropriate for the purpose. I hope to show here that this failure is due to the fact that the program of the modern Sunni Reformers represents a double rupture with the past: first, the Reformers deliberately chose to sweep away the teachings of the established schools of law; second, they opted for the state rather than society as the means by which to impose their program.
These two ruptures have proven to be a source of weakness rather than strength.

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