Knowledge as Politics by Other Means: An Interview with Wael Hallaq
June 9, 2014 6:35 PM Subscribe
Throughout the last three decades, Wael Hallaq has emerged as one of the leading scholars of Islamic law in Western academia. He has made major contributions
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not only to the study of the theory and practice of Islamic law, but to the development of a methodology through which Islamic scholars have been able to confront challenges facing the Islamic legal tradition. Hallaq is thus uniquely placed to address broader questions concerning the moral and intellectual foundations of competing modern projects. With his most recent work, The Impossible State, Hallaq lays bare the power dynamics and political processes at the root of phenomena that are otherwise often examined purely through the lens of the legal. In this interview, the first of a two-part series with him, Hallaq expands upon some of the implications of those arguments and the challenges they pose for the future of intellectual engagements across various traditions. In particular, he addresses the failure of Western intellectuals to engage with scholars in Islamic societies as well as the intellectual and structural challenges facing Muslim scholars. Hallaq also critiques the underlying hegemonic project of Western liberalism and the uncritical adoption of it by some Muslim thinkers.Muslims and the Path of Intellectual Slavery: An Interview with Wael Hallaq (Part Two)
Hasan Azad (HA): You have discussed the failure of intellectuals in the Muslim world to digest the changing relationship between knowledge and power during the modern era. What about the Western intellectuals’ share of responsibility?
Wael Hallaq (WH): Of course. The leading Western intellectuals have done little, if anything, so far (although, as we all know, a number of scholars have done their share in presenting Islam and its traditions as a fertile place for intellectual engagement). But for these leading intellectuals, the non-Euro-American continues, in the vein of the nineteenth century, not to count for much. For Euro-America (to speak at large and paradigmatically), the world remains about Euro-America, the Rest being some footnotes or marginalia. It would be naïve and daft of us to forget that the same patterns of thinking in the Western liberal world continue virtually uninterrupted since the seventeenth century. It remains an astounding fact that Europeans and Americans would dissect countless aspects of liberty and freedom, and fight off their monarchs tooth and nail, and while doing all this, they (and perhaps the hypocritical John Locke and the “neo-Roman jurists” standing at the top) gave not a single gesture or consideration to the very people they were engaged in oppressing in the colonies and at home. Locke unabashedly continued to invest his personal wealth in the slave-trade business and to vigorously speak of liberty and freedom, simultaneously! And were not many of the American founders the same? An isolated voice or two aside, none of the Enlightenment thinkers understood human rights and political liberties to extend to the people they oppressed, as if these were not humans at all. And we see the patterns repeated as I speak, however different in form they may appear nowadays.