- Global Islam: A Very Short Introduction by Nile Green
Globalization connotes the interconnectedness and increasing interdependence of the world. This condition is experienced as transformative. This is not to assert that the world used to be entirely disconnected. There has always been travel, but with much less intensity. Technologies—paper, for example, the printing press, or the military possibilities of the horse—did travel worldwide, transforming the world, but they did not lead to the interpenetration of the world to the point of inseparability. Nile Green has elegantly argued in his article "Spacetime" that the impact of new technologies in steam and print generated not only routes between spaces, but the integration of space/time in fundamentally new ways. The web of interactions spread worldwide, reshaping the local, as well as the global. As Green explained, "the new deracinated notion of a 'Muslim world' spread to all corners of the globe" (American Historical Review, 2013, p. 118).
In this book, Green takes up the question of global Islam, which he defines as "as the doctrines and practices promoted by transnational religious activists, organizations, and states during the era of modern globalization" (p. 1). In Green's rendering, global Islam emerged as a solution to the "actual or perceived threats from colonialism, nationalism, socialism, and capitalism, along with the materialist drift of modernization and the cultural pressures of globalization itself" (p. 2). Despite similar impulses propelling the creation of global Islam, Green warns against oversimplifying the results. "Globalization has not brought about a single, unified Islam," he notes, but rather "a more complex kaleidoscope of shifting and competing forms of faith" (p. 2).
In four succinct chapters organized chronologically, Green explores the various individuals, movements, and states which have articulated and propagated various "global Islams" over time, from the age of empire, to the present. This is a valuable book, particularly for Green's ability to capture the longer histories of these new global Islams—their inception, evolution, and deployment of new technologies, such as the cassette tape, television, and the internet, to "go global." It is also geographically capacious, discussing global Islams wherever they emerged and developed: in the Middle East, but also in South Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.
While it is outside the purview of this short introduction, we need to remember that it was not only opportunity that led to the redefinition of Islam, but necessity. The emergence of new Islams was tied to the fragmentation of authority—the destabilization of religious tradition, traditional institutions, and actors that lost their monopoly on Islam. Global [End Page 299] Islam is not only the story of new opportunities seized, deployed, and exploited, but of freedom from traditional authority, both enabling and requiring religious innovation. Tradition, or traditionalism, which depends on the authority of precedent, was fundamentally destabilized in this period of globalization, opening up not only the possibility, but the need to reconstitute religion, to rearticulate the eternal essence of religion and embed it into the present historical context.
This book is concerned with mapping ways in which technology is a vehicle for global Islam, yet it's important to remember that technologies too have cultures; they carry with them new epistemologies, bound closely with new methodologies. For example, the new technology of the book and its close association with early Christianity underscores the ways technologies overlap with theology; the new cultures and theological implications of global technologies are important, as well as the global Islams that these new mediums have engendered. Theology and its attendant methodology are inseparable from religious practice, religiosity, and definitions of religion, whether or not the participants themselves appreciate this. The emergence of a new global audience—this constituted "Muslim world"—was itself the product of the new conditions of globalization.
This is a must-read for those interested in the processes of globalization and the resulting Islams.
Monica M. Ringer is professor of Middle Eastern history at Amherst College. Her most recent work explores the impact of historicism on the generation of religious modernisms: Islamic Modernism: The Re-enchantment...