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Review by Professor Albert Hourani

This review of "Politics and Revelation Māwardī and after", by the late Professor Albert Hourani was sent to the publisher, upon request, before its publication.

3 August 1992

Dear Anna,

Mawardi and Islamic Political Thought:

This MS came to me anonymously, and I should very much like to know who the author is or was, as in some ways it is the most interesting essay on Sunni political thought that I have ever read.

It is a study of the thought of al-Mawardi, whose book al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya is the first systematic study of the relationship between Islamic revelation and political power. Form it is a book about the Sunni Imamate, but in fact it is more than that: al-Mawardi was writing at a time when the power of the Imamate Caliph was being eroded by that of the Seljuk and other local dynasties, and one of his main purposes is to show how any kind of power, whatever its origins, can be turned into legitimate authority by being exercised within the limits of the shari’a and for the maintenance of religion and justice.

The first serious study of al-Mawardi’s thought was made by T.W. Arnold in his book, The Caliphate. His ideas were carried further by his student, H.A.R. Gibb, in a famous article, and his ideas in turn used by Ann Lambton in various writings (and by myself and others). The author of this new book has, for the first time, made use of other writings by al-Mawardi, and has given us an interpretation which is different in some ways from the accepted version.

It is beautifully written, in clear and precise language, and fully documented with references to a wide range of original sources and modern studies; it would need virtually no editorial work. I wish it had been published a long time ago, as it would have saved me and others from errors. But I am doubtful whether it can be published now: (1) the market would be quite limited; (2) it is too short to make a book: about 30,000 words, enough of a series of 2 or 3 articles; (3) what is most important, it was obviously written about 30 years ago. There are no references to books or articles published later than in the early 1960’s. while not much work has been done on al-Mawardi since then, there has been considerable work on more general subjects relevant to him: for example, only one early article by Ann Lambton is cited, while since then she has written a major work on Islamic political thought, and there is only one reference to an article by George Makdisi about Muslim institutions of learning, and he too has published a major work since then. More generally the rise of Islamic "fundamentalist" movements during the last 30 years has posed questions about the relationship between revelation and power in new forms, and a book on the subject would need to show some awareness of them.

I wish this could be published in some form, or rather that it had been published when it was written.

Albert Hourani


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