“Everyone appeals to past authorities all the time,” Hussein Ali Agrama writes in his introduction to Questioning Secularism, “but it does not follow that all such appeals are therefore traditional.”1 This appeal to past authority is quite noticeable, Agrama tells us, in modern law, with its references to earlier precedents or previously enacted codes. Modern law, however, is hardly considered traditional, since its orientation appears to fragment authority, progressing onward to a liberating albeit deferred future.2 The appeals to the past within Islam, on the other hand, become quintessential expressions of traditional authority’s permanence, which continually affirm the past for its own sake. In its claim to the past, then, Islam is presumed to be reactionary and resistant to change, whereas modern law’s references to the historical promise deliverance.

The references to the past in Islam, however, are not...

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