For Love of the Prophet

For Love of the ProphetNoah Salomon’s recent ethnography of the Islamic state in Sudan looks at this political formation as it is lived out in daily life. As Salomon phrases it in his introduction to the series,

“As much a meditation on the religious dimensions of the modern state in general as it is an ethnography of religious and political life in Sudan, For Love of the Prophet asks readers to question their own assumptions about what has sustained foundational politics in our ‘post-foundational age.’ Moving beyond arguments about the impossibility of the Islamic state as a moral-theoretical or an ethical-political project, For Love of the Prophet draws on ethnographic research to ask by what means the Islamic state does in fact proceed in spite of its seeming contradictions.”

In this series, six scholars from an array of disciplines discuss Salomon’s contribution to conversations on state formation, the Islamic in the public, and the history of Sudan. They ask questions based on their own research interests, engaging with the text from a variety of perspectives.

Begin with reading Noah Salomon’s introduction here. Follow along with the conversation with the responses below.


March 22nd, 2017

When is the Islamic state? Historical time and the agenda of Islamic studies

posted by Kabir Tambar

For Love of the ProphetFrom the Islamic revolutions in Iran (1978-79) and Sudan (1989) to the recent emergence of ISIS, the concept of an Islamic state is often greeted in North America and Western Europe with a distinct historical anxiety, as a phenomenon of pre-modernity erupting in our midst. Scholars of Islamic studies have long countered that in fact these entities are constituted squarely within the discourses and institutions of the modern state: the movement in Iran, for instance, followed the longstanding revolutionary-national tradition in claiming that it acted on behalf of the will of “the people,” and the Sudanese leadership embraced the idea of civilizing a pre-modern religiosity, a project that has been a hallmark of Enlightenment thought. Nation-states that claim to derive their law from Islam still typically codify sharia in the format of a constitution, often drawing on the conventions and language of international law as a guide.

In reminding readers of these points, scholars of Islamic studies challenge the relegation of Islamic politics to pre-modernity. But in showing the many ways in which actual political practices in the Muslim world remain within the fold of modernity, this line of critique risks reinscribing the same temporal division, leaving it in place as the very condition of intelligibility of Islamic politics. How might a different understanding of historical time reorient the agenda of Islamic studies?

Read When is the Islamic state? Historical time and the agenda of Islamic studies.
March 16th, 2017

New itineraries in the study of Islam and the state

posted by Iza Hussin

For Love of the ProphetFrom Wael Hallaq’s The Impossible State to Shahab Ahmad’s What is Islam?, recent scholarship on Islam and the state has been enriched by studies that seek to interrogate the boundaries of the concept and to push scholars in multiple fields to explore new empirical and analytic possibilities for an old question. Working from quite different theoretical and textual presuppositions, both Hallaq and Ahmad make the argument that we begin with where the Islamic is not: the Islamic is not to be found in the legal and governmental institutions of the modern nation state.

Noah Salomon makes a powerful case for a different starting point, grounded in ethnography: “What are we to make of Hallaq’s impossible state when it in fact becomes a practical possibility?” With admirable transparency, he notes what many of us have encountered in the field: “When I arrived in Sudan, I made the rather unsettling discovery that I could not find the state in the places where I had expected it to be.” Salomon finds the Islamic state not in government buildings, but in the logics and conduct of daily life, “structuring the landscape of discourse and debate on which diverse expressions of contemporary Sudanese life takes place.”

Read New itineraries in the study of Islam and the state.
March 16th, 2017

For Love of the Prophet—An Introduction

posted by Noah Salomon

For Love of the ProphetFor Love of the Prophet argues that in moving beyond the institutional life of the Sudanese state, we are able to see its Islamic hue as something more than a response to secularism and Westernization, as it is often characterized by Muslim political elites and Western scholars alike. Instead, through examining how the Islamic state comes to life as an object of aspiration and consternation among diverse publics, we see that it is engaged in a much deeper and more diverse set of conversations within Islamic thought that are rarely captured by the categories and lenses of political science or religious studies. Understanding these features of the Islamic state helps us to comprehend how and why it perseveres as a political aspiration, against all odds and despite its many disappointments, in Sudan and beyond.

In this essay, Noah Salomon introduces a new book forum around his recently published ethnography of politics, religion, and statehood in Sudan.

Read For Love of the Prophet—An Introduction.