In this week's issue, Leon Wieseltier has a great take-down of Noah Feldman's recent NYT Magazine article about Shariah. I found Feldman's article so misguided that I could not help myself from building on Leon's argument and pointing out some of the numerous flaws in Feldman's piece:
- Feldman tries to argue that Islamic scholars, as the ultimate interpreters of Shariah, serve as a counter-balance to power of political rulers. The problem is that the scholars are almost always appointed (and easily dismissed) by the rulers, which severely limits their ability to disagree with the rulers in any substantial way.
I certainly don't deny Feldman's aptitude as a scholar of Islamic history and jurisprudence, but I am more generally troubled by his know-it-all tone (a factor that plagued his other recent NYTMag article about being slighted by his Orthodox Jewish high school), in that he feels no need to back up any of his theories with actual proof or examples. His claims about Muslim public opinion, as I mention above, are not backed up with any data--statistics or even anecdotes. And for all his intricate theories of Islamic scholars acting as a counterbalance to rulers, he does not give even one example of the piece--in recent times or through Islamic history--where the scholars were actually able to exercise such power in any significant way.