Philosophy, Religion, and Science: Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism. the Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State

By Salvatore, Armando | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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Philosophy, Religion, and Science: Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism. the Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State


Salvatore, Armando, The Middle East Journal


Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism. The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State, by Ahmad S. Moussalli. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999. 196 pages. Notes to p. 214. Bibl. to p. 242. Index to p. 249. $49.95.

In this book, Ahmad Moussalli analyzes the political discourse of both radical and moderate Islamic fundamentalism, which he identifies as "fundamentalism" and "modernism," respectively. He focuses, especially, on Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Hasan al-Turabi. Moussalli's main concern is not to draw a sharp boundary between a potentially democratic and an utterly undemocratic form of Islamist ideology. His main merit is to show what they have in common and where the delicate normative junctures are situated, which are determinant in their quest for modern and democratic legitimacy.

Moussalli makes clear at the outset that Islamism cannot be reduced to "political Islam." The "Islamic state" itself is a means to the goal of establishing a moral society on the basis of divine shari'a. Politics plays a role from the moment Islamists recognize the failure of existing states Mites and ideologies. Here, the author, quite by virtue of his efforts at clarification, runs into a definitional ambiguity. Islamism appears nonpolitical if judged from the normative view of politics dear to Western liberalism; however, it is indeed political, to the extent that it develops a limited political theory finalized to the achievement of its normative goals. Even Hasan alBanna, the most outspoken advocate of an Islamic state in the Arab world, stated that Islam is more than politics, in that the former incorporates the latter (p. 109). One major entry point of Islamists into politics is "the state's denial of their activities to propagate their understanding of Islam" (p. 38). For Islamists, the Islamic state is the alternative stage (or perhaps the backstage) for the self-- empowerment of the individual Muslim and the community.

In al-Turabi, one finds most clearly--and illustrated well by Moussalli--the primacy of the individual towards the community itself. Shari'a as Islamic normativity addresses first the individual being, then the community, and last the state. To see here an affinity with Western liberalism would be, however, a mistake. The analogy is more with Western republican (better than "communitarian," a very ambiguous label) views of the relationship between the individual and the community.

In the final analysis, though clearly distinct, Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism can be compared on an issue that seems to be central for both: the issue of democracy. Here Moussalli is eager to show that, especially where Islamist authors have not been exposed to hard state repression (as in the case of Sayyid Qutb), they have been seriously concerned to reconstruct and legitimize democracy in Islamic terms: especially through linking shari'a with the consensual principle of shura (consultation), and freeing both from their traditionally being a domain of elite hermeneutics and elite decision-making. The Egyptian lawyer Muhammad Salim al-'Awwa, one leading personality belonging to the younger generation of moderate Islamists to which Moussalli, unfortunately, does not dedicate much attention, insists that "shari'a limits the powers of the state and frees society" (p.

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