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Author profile: Shireen T. Hunter Shireen T. The place from which, in Muslim tradition, Muhammad ascended to heaven on his Night Journey. Islam - Scripture Qur'an: Topic Page This chapter explains the origin, format, purpose and presentation of the scriptures of Islam. The Qur'an is the Holy Book of Islam. As Islam makes no distinction between religion and life, Islamic law covers not only ritual but many aspects of life.

Sunna: Topic Page Muslim code of practice; a body of traditional law based on the sayings, actions, and guidance of the prophet Muhammad, as detailed in the Hadith and the Sirah a biography of the prophet's life. Hadith From The Columbia Encyclopedia A tradition or the collection of the traditions of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, including his sayings and deeds, and his tacit approval of what was said or done in his presence. Islam - Divisions Shi'ite: Topic Page Member of a sect of Islam that believes that Ali, a cousin of the prophet Muhammad, was his first true successor. Sufism: Topic Page An umbrella term for the ascetic and mystical movements within Islam.

Sunni Islam is the heir to the early central Islamic state, in its ackowledgement of the legitimacy of the order of succession of the first four caliphs. Generally speaking, early modernizing efforts, often directed from the top, have prompted reassertion of indigenous cultures and value systems, albeit in a different form, and often in the guise of new ideologies with authenticist impulses. For example, the early eighteenth century modernizing reforms of Peter the Great in Russia led to the emergence of the authenticist movement of Slavophilism.

These modernizers embraced the project of modernity in its outward manifestations and pursued economic, social, and cultural policies that led to a polarization of Muslim societies at every level between a narrow elite and the rest of the people. These alternative models reflect the basic traits of other authenticist responses to the challenges of modernity and the upheavals caused by the process of modernization.

Islamic Reform Movement

HUNTER This response to the tension caused by the challenge of modernity and the disruptions in the fabric of society triggered by the process of modernization seeks solace in an idealized and superior version of the indigenous culture rooted in the past, seeing in it the best and most appropriate solutions to contemporary problems. In conformity with the general pattern, Islamic revivalist projects are based on an idealized and ideologized vision of the Islamic past and community, and their goal—the recreation of the madinat al-nabi city of the Prophet —is utopian.

They look both backward and forward in an apotheosis of truth, and they are as much myth as history. In fact, all religiocultural reform movements fall within the category of synthesis, although the relative weight of modernity and tradition varies for different movements, at different times and places, and among key thinkers and leaders. On the contrary, late-modernizing European countries—Germany, Italy, and some countries on the European periphery—have experienced modernization under non-democratic and even fascist governments.

Historically, most efforts at synthesis have failed, partly because they have tried to combine elements of native culture with manifestations of modernity rather than examining the native culture in light of modernity as a philosophical frame of reference. Moreover, the discourse of synthesis is complex and thus difficult to communicate at a mass level of comprehension and motivation.

In particular, it lacks the ideological zeal of either committed modernizers or religious and cultural traditionalists and revivalists.

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Additionally, the proponents of synthesis historically have been mistrusted and opposed by both traditionalists and modernists. Muslim reformist thinkers today, however, have sought a more nuanced approach to the relationship between modernity and indigenous cultures and systems of values. On the contrary, they do assess their own culture in light of modernity; but they also take a critical approach to modernity and its outcomes. In their critique of aspects of modernity, they draw heavily on the ideas of Western critics of modernity, or at least versions thereof, including those of postmodernists.

This trend has to be distinguished both from nativist reactions as reflected in religious revivalist movements or Slavophilism and from other random combinations of elements of tradition and modernity. Rather it is more inspired by ideas developed in the West, such as the notion of modernity as an unfinished project and the concept of multiple modernities. The final judgment on the efficacy of efforts at synthesis and development of homegrown modernities, including its Islamic variants, should wait until Muslim societies fully absorb the impact of these developments.

Following these military defeats, Muslims became painfully conscious of their scientific, technological, and military shortcomings compared to the Europeans. This sudden awareness led to deep soul-searching among Muslims regarding the causes of their decline and to a still continuing debate about how to reverse it. Depending on their specific geopolitical, social, and political conditions and structures, individual Muslim societies reacted differently to this challenge.

Nevertheless, there were significant similarities in the range of their responses. HUNTER Empire consisted of military schools naval engineering school—; military engineering—; and military science— In Iran, the first students sent abroad by the reformist Crown Prince Abbas Mirza Qajar studied military sciences and engineering.

Reforms soon extended to educational, administrative, and legal spheres. The first reaction, total embrace of Western-style modernity, has been identified with the new and expanding elites educated in the West and later also in Westernstyle educational institutions.

Reformist Voices of Islam

For example, the Iranian secular modernizer Mirza Malkum Khan and his followers openly said that new ideas should be expressed in Islamic terms in order to gain popular acceptance. To reverse the process of decline and recapture their lost strength and vitality, Muslims should revive and observe Islamic rules and values. The third reaction—in the context of this study the most important—has been that of synthesis.

The adherents of this trend maintain that Islam is not a hindrance to scientific and other progress and have worked hard to validate their views. The most influential early representatives of this trend were Sayyid Jamal al-Din Assadabadi, known as al-Afghani, Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, and their followers.


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To the list of the supporters of synthesis must be added a new generation of political figures with a modern education. Abduh is generally considered to be the father of Islamic modernism, while Afghani is indisputably the most ardent promoter of Islamic unity as a necessary element in any Islamic intellectual, economic, and political revival. Thus, in his apprehension of the external threat, Afghani had much in common with earlier traditionalist reformers.

Shireen T. Hunter — E-International Relations

For Afghani, reform was necessary because it was the only way for Muslims to reverse European domination. He acknowledged, however, that Muslims had lost their rationalist and scientific spirit—or more accurately, had passed it on to the Europeans. The level of their forgetfulness was so high that, when confronted with their own scientific legacy in European garb, they could not recognize it.

He also emphasized the importance of striving. These ideas have motivated later generations of Muslim thinkers, including the major contemporary figures. The type of reform promoted by synthesizers was not pursued either systematically or for a sustained period. By the early twentieth century, the first type of reaction, manifested in the shape of a Westernizing trend, accelerated and became dominant by the s, at least at the elite level. The masses, meanwhile, remained loyal to their religious and cultural beliefs and traditions. This interruption of the trend toward a synthesis between Islam and modernity and the ascendance of modernizing regimes had far-reaching ramifications for the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural evolution of the Muslim world, and ultimately it spurred the rise of revivalist movements, some with radical tendencies.

Reformist Voices of Islam: Mediating Islam and Modernity

Ascendance of the Modernizers: An Ephemeral Victory? By the s, the modernizers had gained the upper hand within the political systems of most Muslim countries. From the s through the s, they experimented with various versions of state-sponsored developmentalist projects; in other words, they pursued modernization without modernity.

Despite their many flaws, these policies expanded educational opportunities and made it possible for traditional, religious, and often financially disadvantaged segments of society to acquire a modern education. This development deeply affected the evolution of Islamic thinking in nearly every sphere of life, and it produced new types of Muslim reformers. These reformers espoused ideas that, at least on the surface, echoed the perspective of traditional reformers, including the restoration of a pure form of Islam and a return to an idealized past. However, they aimed to achieve these goals by using different analytical and methodological tools.

The emergence of this trend in the late s and the early s surprised development experts. Yet, it was quite in line with traditional reactions to the first and often state-sponsored, modernizing efforts in other cultural milieus and other times, such as the post-Petrine Russia. His statement reflected the consensus among development experts and the principal theme of development theories dominant throughout the s—s.

History has proven belief in a linear and uninterrupted progress from traditional to modern societies and the concomitant erosion of the role religion in society to be misplaced—and not only in the case of Muslim societies. This has led prominent scholars such as Peter L. Berger, once a proponent of the idea of an inexorable secularization, to change their opinions on this matter. Against all expectations, development and modernization have not eliminated religion either as a spiritual or as a social, political, and cultural force. Internally, developmentalist projects and ideologies had failed to deliver on their promises, at least not adequately and not for a large enough number of people.

In particular, most Muslim countries had failed to absorb all the newly educated population into full employment in either government or in private sector. Meanwhile, the skewed pattern of modernization had created a deep cultural divide within Muslim societies without any precedent. On one side were the more or less Westernized elites and, on the other, the uneducated masses as well as the newly educated but culturally adrift classes.

This cultural rift had far-reaching implications for societal relations and in the competition for power and privilege among different segments of society. Because in all societies there is a close connection between the dominant cultural-ideological paradigm and the equation of power and privilege, these cultural differences became inextricably linked to issues of power—who wields it and who benefits from it.

Shireen Hunter

In response, increasingly novel formulations of Islam became the overarching paradigm for those seeking to change the balance of power within Muslim societies and the social, economic, and political structures underpinning it. This is not to suggest that religious and moral issues did not play important roles in this context. They did.