Reviewed by Imad-ad-Dean Abroad
The desire of today's publishers to thrust the suspect title "Islamic Fundamentalism" on every book that deals with the subject of political Islam has brought us to the point where this book entitled Islamic Fundamentalism cites another called Islamic Fundamentalism.
The editors of this uneven anthology confront the problematical nature of the book's title directly in the introduction. They accurately summarize the debate over the utility of the term "fundamentalism". The editors approvingly quote Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby of "Fundamentalism Project" fame as observing that as "lay scholars of Islam, leaders of . . . fundamentalist movements are not theologians but social thinkers and political activists." But this has been the general rule in Islamic history. Muslims take for granted that man's understanding of the incomprehensive God is limited to what we are told in the Quran. Ever since the Asharites came to dominate Muslim philosophy, attempts to impose doctrinaire interpretations of the divine attributes has been understood to be a form of idolatry - substitution of an image of God for a nameable but transcendent reality. No wonder that Muslim leaders are seen as social thinkers and activists rather than as theologians in the Christian sense of the term. Not a few Western observers of early Islamic history, including G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells, had held the same option about the Prophet Muhammad himself.
The editors note that the terms usuliyya and usuli have totally different connotations in the Arabic language than do "fundamentalism" and "fundamentalist" in English. They sensibly, if ironically observe that what distinguishes the Islamist leaders is "political activism rather than a dogmatic or literalist attitude toward Holy Scripture." Notwithstanding the title of their book they conclude that "the word 'fundamentalism' with its original Christian implications should not be brought into an Islamic context."
This volume is divided into three parts of differing merit. "Part One: General Framework and Themes" is a state-of-art description of the approach taken towards the study of the subject by most western academics rather than an effective framework for identifying and understanding the themes in the case studies which comprise the Part II. While the four chapters in Part I tell us much about the authors' attitudes towards the Muslim world, toward the relative place of politics and religion, the authors' own hierarchy of values, they are not so useful in providing a framework that will help to understand the mind of the engage of the phenomenon which is the subject of the book. The reader is better served to skip Part I and to formulate his own framework for analysis n the process of reading the case studies in Part II.
In contrast, "Part II: Case Studies" is well researched and very useful in summarizing the case studied. The quality of the research and the analysis vary from very good to outstanding. Not only do the authors of the eight chapters do a generally excellent job of marshaling the most important facts, but their analyses, narrowly focussed and directly tied to the facts presented, are usually enlightening and on target.
"Part III: Parallels" consists of two chapters which fall in merit somewhere between the valleys of Part I and the summits of Part II. Youssef Choueiri's opening chapter on "The Political Discourse of Contemporary Islamist Movements' fails to reflect the diversity of that discourse, but rather perpetuates stereotypes. The author asserts that Ghanouchi's "Tunisian fundamentalism . . . is virtually indistinguishable" from "radical groups that consider themselves in a perpetual state of war." This astonishing pronouncement is made with no citations. He descends into pure polemics when he asserts that jihad "entails a method of armed struggle, coupled with an assertion of Islam as a religion that has to be ultimately embodied in a totalitarian state."
Suha Taji-Farouki's chapter aims to explore the relationship between the Islamist state theories and contemporary realities. By focussing on Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, the author again misses the diversity of the Islamist discourse. The problem is compounded by mistakes like the author's confusing between sharia and fiqh and failure to appreciate the significance of distinctions between the various elements of democracy such as between elections (to which few Islamists object) and invented legislation (which is contrary to the Islamic idea of divine origin of discovered and revealed law).
In the strongest chapter of Part I, Charles Tripp argues that states in the Middle East are driven by a secular logic that cannot be subordinated to Islamic imperatives, but can only employ "the language of Islamic belief' to clothe policies born of that logic. There is merit to this argument, but why suggest that this logic is limited to the states of the Middle East? One might agree with Tripps' analysis, yet reach a different conclusion. The secular logic of which he speaks may be related to the corrupting influence of power. Then, rather than treat it as a force of historical determinism to which the Islamist movement must ultimately succumb, one could treat it as a moral warning that an Islamic state must adopt constitutional limitations and avoid centralization of power if it is to maintain its Islamicity. Such a view is not foreign to the Islamist discourse since the notion that absolute authority belongs only to God is consistent with the view that it must not be appropriated by the state.
In Chapter Four on "Pax Islamica, An Alternative New World Order," David George advances a related point that modern states are integral parts of an international legal system that necessities a secularity that makes an Islamic state "a contingent possibility." This argument rests on a fallacy about the nature of the Islamic state to which the author should not have fallen prey. When one reads that a foreign policy premises and "conducted wholly in terms of Islamic values and principles" is "simply impossible" one wonders if the author has ever read Abdul Hamid Abu Sulayman. It turns out that he has, but he dismisses Abu Sulayman as "disappointing" because his proposed framework is not "a wholly new departure from present relations between Muslim and non-Muslim states". The implication is that however authentically Islamic a proposed foreign policy may be, it is secular if it fails to conform to Western stereotypes about what consists Islamic policy. The author even dismissed Imam Khomeini because notwithstanding his credentials, the late founder of the Iranian Islamic Republic did "not envisage armed jihad as the way to reconstruct the world on new Islamic foundations."
The best chapter in Part II, and therefore in the book, is Clair Spencer's discussion of "the Roots and Future of Islamism in Algeria." It is scholarly, objective, and as complete as one can demand a thirty-page monograph to be. She not only addresses the complexity of the Islamist voices in Algeria, but the complexity o the social background that bred the movement.
Maha Azzam and Beverly Milton-Edwards do very good expositions of "Egypt and the State Under Mubarak" and "Climate of Change in Jordan's Islamist Movement" respectively. The Egyptian experience falls between the Algerian and Jordanian in terms of the balance of pragmatic accommodation and bald repression used by the state against the Islamist movements and the comparison of these cases and the details of their development have important implications on the themes of the book that readers working strictly within the framework put forward in Part I could completely miss.
Anoushiravan Ehtashami's chapter on "Islamic Governance in Iran" explores post-revolutionary Iran's power structure, foreign policy, macro-economic policy and political/religious relations. There is much good data here. The analysis could have been improved if the author had addressed the impact of the Iran-Iraq war on the society and the regime. Also, the authors seems to have been under the impression that any liberalization would have had to have been engineered by Rafsanjani. Events since the book's publication have show otherwise.
Iyad Barghouti's discussion of "Islamist Movements in Historical Palestine" is good, although I was puzzled by his assertion that Hamas has not "initiated military resistance against the occupation." Certainly, Hamas has engaged in military action in Israel. Is Barghouti referring to the fact that they do not engage in military activities on land occupied by the Palestinian National Authority? That is not an accommodation of Israel. It reflects an awareness that such activity might lead to a civil war that would only benefit Israel.
Abdel Salam Sidahmed's chapter on "Sudan: Ideology and Pragmatism" is a good analysis of the contrast between theory and practice, but would have been improved by better documentation of his accusations against the regime. For example, specifically, what are the "unprecedented" taxes which have been imposed upon the population?
Raymond Hinnebusch's chapter on "State and Islamism in Syria" provides a rather surprising prognosis for the rise of free enterprise in Syria. In his chapter on "Islamism and Tribalism in Yemen" Eric Watkins argues that the Yemeni Islamic movement was largely a convenience mechanism for opposing socialism and once the socialist state was defeated, traditional tribalism resumed its dominate place.
The last two chapters were unsatisfying. Mehdi Mozaffair shows a good familiarity with the facts in his attempts to show the similarities and differences between Algeria and Iran, but his analysis seems guided more by his own preconceived analytical framework. For him militancy and violence are integral parts of Islamism, and the only question is how early on will it reveal itself? This view ignores the impact that precipital events like the Iraqi invasion of Iran and the military's voiding of the Algerian elections would have on any people.
Muhammad Mahmoud's essay on "Women and Islamism: The Case of Rashid al-Ghanunushi of Tunisia" makes a number of interesting points, yet falls short because of the author's apparent failure to appreciate the context. For example, Mahmoud understates the significance of Ghannoushi's analysis of the Quranic verse (3:36) regarding the birth of Mary, mother of Jesus, by asserting that it "predicates Mary's worth on her motherhood of Jesus and hence her relationship to a man rather than her own independent worth." It is hard to see how anyone who has read the verses immediately following could fail to see the great stress laid on Mary's inherent worth, put up not only as a model for all women (who cannot aspire to be the mother of Jesus) but even as a model to men, specifically to her guardian Zakariya. (It was a female Catholic convert to Islam who pointed out to me just how radically different his treatment of Mary is from the Christian conception.) Because of this lack of appreciation of context, readers interested in the extremely important issue of women and Islamism would do better to read Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's In Search of Islamic Feminism.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad is president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, an Islamic think tank in Bethesda, Maryland. He is editor of the recently released Islam and the Discovery of Freedom.
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|Publication:||Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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