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Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wael Hallaq, an influential Islamic law and intellectual history scholar, presenting Danner Lecture at IU

March 27, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Wael B. Hallaq, an influential scholar of Islamic law and Islamic intellectual history and the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, will present the Victor Danner Lecture at Indiana University Bloomington on Wednesday, April 4.

Wael Hallaq

Wael B. Hallaq

Print-Quality Photo

Hallaq will speak on "The Islamic State and Moral Philosophy: Engaging Post Modernity" at 7 p.m. at the University Club in the Indiana Memorial Union, 900 E. Seventh St.

The Victor Danner Memorial Lecture Series is presented annually by the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington.

Hallaq teaches in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia. His writings have been translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Russian, Japanese, Indonesian and Hebrew. They explore the structural dynamics of legal change in pre-modern law and have recently been examining the centrality of moral theory to understanding the history of Islamic law.

"The concept of the Islamic state has been on the minds of Muslim intellectuals throughout the second half of the 20th century and continues to loom large in the so-called Arab Spring," Hallaq said. "In this lecture, it will be argued that this state, whatever form it may take as a modern state, is a conceptual impossibility and, indeed, a contradiction in terms."

Hallaq's lecture will be based on his forthcoming book, "The Impossible State: Islam, Politics and Modernity's Moral Predicament" (Columbia University Press, 2012).

"The concept of an Islamic state is a highly contested one, although many people tend to talk about it as kind of a frozen concept," said Asma Afsaruddin, IU professor and chair of Near Eastern languages and cultures. "A proper historically contextualized understanding of political authority and forms of governance within Islamic history leads to multiple views and positions on what constitutes legitimate government.

"In other words, there are many different ways of engaging this concept, and that is what we see reflected now in the contemporary Middle East and the Islamic world. The range of perspectives among Islamists and strong pro-democracy advocates, in Egypt for example, is explained by the fact that there is no single blueprint for a state, historically speaking. Professor Hallaq's talk will discuss the complexity of this topic against the background of current events."

Hallaq's latest book, "Shari'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations" (2009), examines the doctrines and practices of Islamic law within the context of its history, from its beginnings in seventh-century Arabia, through its development and transformation under the Ottomans, and across lands as diverse as India, Africa and South-East Asia, to the present.

In recent years, Islamic law, or Shari'a, has been appropriated as a tool of modernity in the Muslim world and in the West and in some cases has become highly politicized in consequence.

His other books include "Ibn Taymiyya Against the Greek Logicians" (1993); "A History of Islamic Legal Theories: An Introduction to Sunni Usul al-fiqh" (1997); "Authority, Continuity and Change in Islamic Law" (2001); and "An Introduction to Islamic Law"(2009).

The lecture series is named for Danner, who was professor of Arabic and religious studies at IU from 1967 until his death in 1990. He chaired the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures for five years and was an internationally renowned scholar in the fields of Islamic mysticism, comparative religion and classical Arabic literature.