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A Way of Life
The Economic Predicaments of Islamism
The doctrine of "Islamic economics" entered debates over the social role of Islam in the mid-twentieth century. Since then it has pursued the goal of restructuring economies according to perceived Islamic teachings. Beyond its most visible practical achievement--the establishment of Islamic banks meant to avoid interest--it has promoted Islamic norms of economic behavior and founded redistribution systems modeled after early Islamic fiscal practices.
In this bold and timely critique, Timur Kuran argues that the doctrine of Islamic economics is simplistic, incoherent, and largely irrelevant to present economic challenges. Observing that few Muslims take it seriously, he also finds that its practical applications have had no discernible effects on efficiency, growth, or poverty reduction. Why, then, has Islamic economics enjoyed any appeal at all? Kuran's answer is that the real purpose of Islamic economics has not been economic improvement but cultivation of a distinct Islamic identity to resist cultural globalization.
The Islamic subeconomies that have sprung up across the Islamic world are commonly viewed as manifestations of Islamic economics. In reality, Kuran demonstrates, they emerged to meet the economic aspirations of socially marginalized groups. The Islamic enterprises that form these subeconomies provide advancement opportunities to the disadvantaged. By enhancing interpersonal trust, they also facilitate intragroup transactions.
These findings raise the question of whether there exist links between Islam and economic performance. Exploring these links in relation to the long-unsettled question of why the Islamic world became underdeveloped, Kuran identifies several pertinent social mechanisms, some beneficial to economic development, others harmful.
In the atmosphere of suspicion and anger that characterizes our time, it is a joy to hear the voice of Iqbal, both passionate and serene. It is the voice of a soul that is deeply anchored in the Quranic Revelation, and precisely for that reason, open to all the other voices, seeking in them the path of his own fidelity. It is the voice of a man who has left behind all identitarian rigidity, who has 'broken all the idols of tribe and caste' to address himself to all human beings. But an unhappy accident has meant that this voice was buried, both in the general forgetting of Islamic modernism and in the very country that he named before its existence, Pakistan, whose multiple rigidities ñ political, religious, military ñ constitute a continual refutation of the very essence of his thought. But we all need to hear him again, citizens of the West, Muslims, and those from his native India, where a form of Hindu chauvinism rages in our times, in a way that exceeds his worst fears. Souleymane Bachir Diagne has done all of us an immense favor in making this voice heard once again, clear and convincing. Charles Taylor, Professor, McGill University Quebec, Canada
At a time when more nuanced understandings of Muslim countries and their legal and social practices are urgently needed in the West, the appearance of this collection is especially welcome. In these illuminating and accessible essays, the contributors explain how Islam sees itself in terms of social policy, how it treats women, and how it encourages charity, education, and general social welfare. The essays encompass many regional cultures and draw on court records and legal debates, field work on government ministries, and an extensive reading of Islamic law. In his overview of waqf (similar to the Western idea of a foundation, in which an endowment is set aside in perpetuity for specified purposes), Ahmad Dallal explains how charity, a central organizing principle in Islam, is itself organized and how waqf, traditionally a source of revenue for charitable purposes, can also become a source of tension and conflict. Donna Lee Bowen, in her essay on the position of women in Islamic law, points out the crucial differences between the Islamic principles of family equity and the Western notion of individual equality. In a subsequent essay, Bowen addresses the problems surrounding family planning and the dilemmas that have arisen within the Muslim world over differing ideas about birth control. The two final essays look at specific instances of how the modern state has treated Islamic social policy. Gail Richardson examines zakat, an Islamic tax used to assist the poor, and its administration in Pakistan. Carol Underwood, meanwhile, explores public health policy in Iran, both before and after the Islamic revolution that deposed the Shah. Addressing some of the most profound misunderstandings between Islamic and Western societies, ISLAM AND SOCIAL POLICY will be of vital interest not only to scholars and policymakers but to anyone concerned with Islam’s critical place in the modern world.
Abdelwahab Meddeb makes an urgent case for an Islamic reformation, located squarely in Western Europe, now home to millions of Muslims, where Christianity and Judaism have come to coexist with secular humanism and positivist law. He is not advocating "moderate" Islam, which he characterizes as thinly disguised Wahabism, but rather an Islam inspired by the great Sufi thinkers, whose practice of religion was not bound by doctrine. To accomplish this, Meddeb returns to the doctrinal question of the text as transcription of the uncreated word of God and calls upon Muslims to distinguish between Islam's spiritual message and the temporal, material, and historically grounded origins of its founding scriptures. He contrasts periods of Islamic history--when philosophers and theologians engaged in lively dialogue with other faiths and civilizations, and contributed to transmitting the Hellenistic tradition to early modern Europe--with modern Islam's collective amnesia of this past. Meddeb wages a war of interpretations in this book, in his attempt to demonstrate that Muslims cannot join the concert of nations unless they set aside outmoded notions such as jihad and realize that feuding among the monotheisms must give way to the more important issue of what it means to be a citizen in today's post-religious global setting.
A "Boston Review" Book
The events of September 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism have provoked widespread discussion about the possibility of democracy in the Islamic world. Such topics as the meaning of jihad, the role of clerics as authoritative interpreters, and the place of human rights and toleration in Islam have become subjects of urgent public debate around the world. With few exceptions, however, this debate has proceeded in isolation from the vibrant traditions of argument within Islamic theology, philosophy, and law.
Islam and the Challenge of Democracy aims to correct this deficiency. The book engages the reader in a rich discourse on the challenges of democracy in contemporary Islam. The collection begins with a lead essay by Khaled Abou El Fadl, who argues that democracy, especially a constitutional democracy that protects basic individual rights, is the form of government best suited to promoting a set of social and political values central to Islam. Because Islam is about submission to God and about each individual's responsibility to serve as His agent on Earth, Abou El Fadl argues, there is no place for the subjugation to human authority demanded by authoritarian regimes. The lead essay is followed by eleven others from internationally respected specialists in democracy and religion. They address, challenge, and engage Abou El Fadl's work. The contributors include John Esposito, Muhammad Fadel, Noah Feldman, Nader Hashemi, Bernard Haykel, Muqtedar Khan, Saba Mahmood, David Novak, William Quandt, Kevin Reinhart, and Jeremy Waldron.
This is an excellent book which will have a major impact on the current debate about the relationship between Islam and politics in Indonesia. Its greatest strength is its innovative characterization of three Indonesian Muslim models of polity, as opposed to the normal two, Islamic state and secular state. Assyaukanie brilliantly delineates a third model, which he calls the Religious Democratic State, in the process greatly clarifying our understanding of the previous models, which he now proposes to label the Islamic Democratic State and the Liberal Democratic State. Another strength of the book is methodological. Each of its arguments is solidly grounded in the thoughts and actions of particular players, Indonesian Muslim thinkers and activists.-- Professor R. William Liddle, Ohio State University, United States of America
According to the Qur’an, God created two parallel species, man and the jinn, the former from clay and the latter from fire. Beliefs regarding the jinn are deeply integrated into Muslim culture and religion, and have a constant presence in legends, myths, poetry, and literature. In Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn, Amira El-Zein explores the integral role these mythological figures play, revealing that the concept of jinn is fundamental to understanding Muslim culture and tradition.
Between Divine Message and History
Why this book? What can it add to the many works that have already explored Islam as a history, a doctrine, a law, and a code of ethics? The bulk of Islamic thought nowadays is either a repetition of and rumination about what the ancients have already said, or the tackling of partial issues that falls short of a comprehensive view and a theoretical framework. All too often ideology replaces real knowledge. This work attempts to introduce the characteristics of the Mohammedan Mission, with the aspiration to be faithful to its essential purposes and to historical truth at the same time. The author thus illustrates the different ways in which people have understood the Mission and the reasons that led them to those various interpretations. The book presents several alternative interpretations that actually existed but did not enjoy widespread acceptance and popularity.
Tradition and Transformation
This is a remarkable piece of scholarship that illuminates general and specific tendencies in Islamic education in South Thailand. Armed with an enormous amount of rich empirical detail and an elegant writing style, the author debunks the simplistic Orientalist conceptions of Wahhabi and Salafi influences on Islamic education in South Thailand. This work will be a state-of-the-art source for understanding the role of Islam and the ongoing conflict in this troubled region of Southeast Asia. The book is significant for those scholars who are attempting to understand Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, and also for those who want deep insights into Islamic education and its influence in any area of the Islamic world.- - Raymond Scupin, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies Lindenwood University, USA