Series Editor's Preface to Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat: History, Development, and Progress by Said Fares Hassan (part of the Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law and



This new volume in the Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History by an accomplished and gifted scholar of the Islamic tradition makes an integral and urgent contribution to the growing body of scholarship focusing on Muslim minorities in the West.  One can hardly imagine a topic more germane to the ongoing debates about the future of Muslim minorities in the West and the role that they could play in a world full of paradoxical dualities.  On the one hand, we live in an increasingly globalized and interdependent world, but on the other hand, it is also a world smitten by real or imagined cultural and civilizational conflicts.  On the one hand, we live in a world that often claims to have achieved a global consensus over a universal humanistic ethic embodied in the normativities of international human rights, but on the other hand, there has been an alarming rise in religious bigotry and prejudice, which includes the virtual explosion of Islamophobia in Europe and the United States.  The growth of the field of Muslim minorities studies is, in part, a way of interrogating the paradoxes of identity, community, diversity, and universalism.  Scholarship on Muslim minorities could serve as the means to thinking creatively and constructively about the ways of addressing many of the challenges of modernity.  This underscores not just the importance of such studies, but also the imperative that works on this sensitive and often misunderstood subject be the product of the most exacting and rigorous scholarship. 


It was not that long ago when the sole existing wisdom in the Western academia insisted that the Muslim tradition perceived the world only through the prism of the dichotomous division of two abodes: the abode of Islam and the abode of infidels or war.  My own research interests in this field were piqued when I was taught as a graduate student at Princeton that Shari‘a considers the residence of Muslims among infidels to be unlawful or illegitimate, and that Shari‘a imposes an obligation upon all Muslims to migrate to the abode of Islam.  After a careful and exhaustive reading of the original sources, it was not long before I discovered that this so-called accepted wisdom taught me much more about the researcher making these arguments than the actual discourses found in the Islamic theological, ethical, and legal traditions.  The sad irony is that more than twenty years after discovering that this dogmatic and simplistic interpretation of the Islamic tradition is not supported by the original sources, one still finds this view entrenched in many places including the media, research institutes, and think tanks, as well as in many academic departments in the West.  Even worse, most recently, we have watched the curious phenomenon of various states in America passing legislations or resolutions condemning or banning Shari‘a law.  We have also observed a swarm of xenophobic cultural expressions manifesting in the Internet, television, community events, and even on billboards on buses warning Americans against an impending conspiracy to place the West under the tutelage of Shari‘a law.


This is precisely why Said Fares’ Reaching From Within, which analyzes contemporary discourses on Muslim minorities in the West and their relationship to Shari‘a, is an invaluable study.  This is the first scholarly work to undertake a thorough and systematic analysis of the actual Muslim debates on the nature of Shari‘a as it relates to Muslim minorities living in the United States and Europe.  It is also the first study of what many Muslims have called fiqh al-aqalliyyat or Islamic law as it applies to Muslim minorities living in liberal secular democracies.  Away from dogmatic presuppositions or simplistic dichotomies, this book takes its readers through the dynamics and challenges of internal Muslim debates about the meaning and nature of Shari‘a and the way it is supposed to affect the lives of Muslim minorities, and how it is in turn shaped and constructed by them.  An important part of these debates are the ways by which modern Muslims creatively negotiated the historically inherited concepts of dynastic territorial polities while adapting Shari‘a to the realities of the modern nation-state.  This necessarily meant having to place the very idea of citizenship within the normative parameters of the living Shari‘a.  And to a great measure, Muslim debates on Islamic law and Muslim minorities are about the ways in which Shari‘a relates to citizenship, nationality, and identity.


Said Fares has done scholarship an enormous favor by writing this meticulously and exhaustively researched book.  This book is indispensable to a broad range of readers, including not only those interested in Islam and Shari‘a, but also those in comparative religions and cultures, and cross-civilizational dynamics and interactions, and indeed, to anyone who has an interest in making sense of the all-too-often boisterous disputations about the meaning and import of Muslim minorities in the West, and in fact, the very future of the West.  Said Fares’ book is a rare accomplishment.  Not only does it succeed in serving as a requisite and essential reference source for scholars and students, but it also serves an immediate and essential socio-political function.  To my mind, this book is the perfect antidote to the pestilence of Islamophobia, and similar maladies of the intellect that might predispose some people towards the dogmatic essentialism of bigotry and prejudice.  But as in the case of the other volumes of the Palgrave Series on Islamic Theology, Law, and History, this book charts new scholarly pathways for future studies on Muslim minorities, Shari‘a, and the West.  Reaching From Within raises the bar for scholarship in the field by setting a new standard for any well-informed discussion that seeks to interrogate the point at which Shari‘a, Muslim minorities, and the West meet, and the meaning of such a meeting for our moral trajectories and aspirations as human beings. 


Khaled Abou El Fadl

Los Angeles, California

February 2013