- The Sociology of Islam: Secuarlism, Economy and Politics
This book has a grand title and makes ambitious claims, but a more appropriate title would be ‘Some Random Essays on Sociology and Islam’. There is no apparent logic to the topics considered, or to those omitted, and it would not really serve as a very useful teaching text for courses on the sociology of Islam. On the other hand some of the essays are interesting and all are worth reading, although some are rather strange. There is almost no discussion of Shi‘ism, of Iran, or of minorities or indeed majorities which are Shi‘a, and this is worth noting for our readers. One of the rather perplexing aspects of the book is that it constantly calls for an understanding of the diversity of Islam and the communities out of which it is constituted, but the Shi‘a community is comprehensively read out of virtually the whole text. The other problematic feature is that although it claims to connect the economic system with Muslim societies, not many of the chapters actually do this, and the economy is notable for its absence in much of the material. I would really have welcomed more discussion of economics and the role it plays in grounding ideology, but there is little of this in the book. In fact, most of the chapters do not discuss the economy at all. On the other hand, secularism is much discussed and often very well, so that the reader gets a decent idea of the range of ideas that are involved under the label of secularism and the role they play in Islamic culture.
These cavils aside, there are some very interesting discussions in the book. Leon Moosavi, for example, talks about Islamophobia and the experiences of converts in the UK and finds that although there is a concern about prejudice towards Muslims few of the converts had actually experienced any negative consequences to themselves from their conversion. He suggests, plausibly, that what is significant about Islamophobia is more its subtle introduction of negativity into the media image of Muslims rather than its direct effect on the life experiences of British Muslims themselves. Rachel Woodlock in ‘Many [End Page 84] Hijabs’ provides a very useful classification of the different positions that have been taken on the notion of women’s dress and the notion of a variety of views and interpretations is very helpful here. The nature of the Muslim public sphere in Turkey is considered by Jeremy Walton and here we do get a treatment of the differences between Islamic groups in the country, with an interesting discussion of both the leading Sunni movements and also the divisions among the Shi‘a Alevi community in Turkey. This is very different from Radwan Ziadeh’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, which discusses the Syrian government’s close relationship with this group while ignoring the strange nature of this relationship given the doctrinal stance of the government and its political background. Joshua Hendrick discusses the operations of Gülen and his many supporters, and argues persuasively that it has outplayed the secularists in Turkey in the modernity game, portraying itself as representing progress, science, and technology by contrast with the old-fashioned political elite. There are two well-written accounts of some of the theoretical issues in Islam with respect to modernity, politics, and capitalism by Bazak Ozaral and Ovamir Anjum.
The other chapters provide some interesting information about Muslims in Poland, Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Nigeria; the book ends with a discussion of how newspapers deal with the treatment of expatriate workers in the UAE. The last chapter brings out a difficulty perhaps in the topic itself. Should a sociology of Islam deal with sociological issues as they arise in societies which are largely Muslim, or should it deal with the interrelationship between sociology and issues in Islamic culture? We get both approaches here, and this is confusing. After all, a discussion on how newspapers deal with...