PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE: Dynamic Islam: Liberal Muslim Perspectives in a Transnational Age

By Kurzman, Charles | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE: Dynamic Islam: Liberal Muslim Perspectives in a Transnational Age


Kurzman, Charles, The Middle East Journal


PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION, AND SCIENCE Dynamic Islam: Liberal Muslim Perspectives in a Transnational Age, by Jon Armajani. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004. ix + 149 pages. Notes to p. 191. Bibl. to p. 225. Index to p. 235. $34 paper.

This book summarizes the work of four contemporary scholars of Islam: Fatima Mernissi (Morocco, born 1940), Leila Ahmed (Egypt-U.S., born 1940), Fazlur Rahman (India-Pakistan-US, 1919-1988), and Mohammed Arkoun (Algeria-France, born 1928). Each of these scholars was born and raised in a Muslim society, traveled to Europe or North America for advanced academic training, and became internationally prominent through his contributions to Western Islamic studies.

Armajani's analysis situates these authors' approaches to Islam in their transnational biographies. From their Islamic heritage, Armajani argues, each author privileges a single ethical principle drawn from the Qur'an over all other Islamic sources, including the legal prescriptions and methods known as shari'a. The ethical principle may vary - gender equality for Mernissi and Ahmed, social justice for Rahman, religious pluralism for Arkoun - but the method is the same in each case. For these authors, according to Armajani, ethics trumps law.

The authors' ethical emphases happen to coincide with certain modern values associated with the Western academic milieu that the authors' inhabit. Armajani is careful to note that the authors are critical of much that they see in the West, but his account emphasizes the influence of the authors' Western academic training on their writings. Arjamani argues that this results in dual commitments, one to certain aspects of the sacred texts and the other to certain aspects of Western values.

In other hands, this analysis might be posed as critique, an attempt to undermine liberal Islamic thought by suggesting that it selectively emphasizes aspects of the sacred sources that happen to coincide with contemporary Western fashions. But this does not appear to be Armajani's intention. His book is remarkably earnest and avoids disagreement with other scholars. He quotes approvingly from others' analyses, to such an extent that it is difficult to tell where the book's own contributions may lie. He rarely challenges the authors he studies, except to note topics that they fail to address at length: gender for Rahman (p.

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