I am currently most of the way through Shari'a
, an interesting book on Islamic law by a leading scholar of the field. It's a book that should be of particular interest to libertarians, since a large part of his thesis is that traditional Islamic law was decentralized, mostly out of state control, worked very well, and was destroyed during the 19th and 20th century by the rise of the nation state.
One problem with reading such a book is that much of the argument depends on evidence I cannot readily check, since I am not a specialist in the field and do not read Arabic. But I have been trying to check it where I can, looking both at sources he cites and translations of primary source material. My conclusion is that, while his thesis may be largely true, he badly overstates the strength of the evidence for it, viewing what he approves of through rose colored glasses and what he disapproves of through whatever are the opposite of rose colored glasses.
That conclusion was reinforced when I came across the following passage in support of an argument blaming western influence for the nationalist and patriarchal nature of modern Islamic states, and did a little online research to see if it was true:
"In nineteenth century Europe, the blood of a nation was not only a
matter of symbolism and semiotics, but a scientific project. Galton,
Spencer, Darwin and Gardiner, among others asserted that every part
of the human body and every attribute of personality contribute,
through the blood, to the formation of the sperm. ... From this
logic followed the conception that it was the man, not the woman,
who determined national attributes, ..."
Not only is it not true, it is very nearly the opposite of true, a fact Hallaq could have easily discovered. Darwin did conjecture that every part of the human body provided particles, which he called "gemmules," that contributed to the formation of the sperm—but also of the egg. To check that, all it takes is a google search on [Darwin Sperm egg gemmules]. And when Darwin's cousin Francis Galton demonstrated that blood did not carry heredity by doing a blood transfusion exchange between rabbits of differing appearance and observing the offspring, Darwin responded that he had not claimed the particles moved through the blood, that perhaps they were transmitted in some other way.
Not only did Galton demonstrate by experiment the opposite of what Hallaq claims he believed with regard to the role of blood in heredity, he also demonstrated the falsity of the view Hallaq attributes to him about the roles of men and women. In Hereditary Genius
, Galton investigated the inheritance of intellectual characteristics by compiling lists of prominent individuals in various fields and analyzing their relationships, looking at both male and female lines. His conclusion, in the chapter on English judges:
“Consequently, though I at first suspected a
against the female line, I think there is reason to believe the
females but little inferior to that of males, in transmitting
The whole passage I quoted above from Hallaq is false, easily demonstrated to be false, and the author uses it to support one of his claims. The conclusion is that he cannot be trusted to get the facts right, at least when they are facts that he thinks support his argument.
While it is disappointing to learn that Hallaq's work, however interesting, is unreliable, I am in his debt for calling my attention to Francis Galton, who turns out to be an interesting and impressive figure.