Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity

Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity

Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity

Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity


This book examines the cultural responses of Muslims to the transformations, contradictions and challenges confronting contemporary Islam as it moves towards the twenty-first century. The diffusion of populations, the globalization of culture and the forces of postmodernity have shaken the world like never before. These developments have generated a debate among Muslims which, as the contributors to this volume show, will have far-reaching consequences not just for the Muslim world, but for relations between Islam and the West more generally.


Ernest Gellner

One of the best known and most widely held ideas in the social sciences is the secularization thesis: in industrial and industrializing societies, the influence of religion diminishes. There is a number of versions of this theory: the scientific basis of the new technology undermines faith, or the erosion of social units deprives religion of its organizational base, or doctrinally centralized, unitarian, rationalized religion eventually cuts its own throat. No doubt there are other forms still.

One thing, however, is clear: the secularization thesis does not apply to Islam. In the course of the last one hundred years, the hold of Islam over the minds and hearts of believers has not diminished and, by some criteria, has probably increased. Moreover, this hold is not limited to some restricted zones of social life: it is not backward or socially underprivileged strata which are specially prone to the preservation of faith, or rustics, or women, or those linked to traditional regimes. The retention of a religious orientation marks the populations of socially radical countries as much as traditionalist ones. Christianity has its Bible belt: Islam is a Qur'an belt.

My own suspicion is that this is somehow linked to the old internal division of Islam into a High and a Low variant, and the manner in which this old tension has played itself out under conditions of modernization. In the past, there had been the unitarian, scripturalist, puritanical, rule-oriented, sober, literalist and anti-esoteric religious style of the urban scholars and their bourgeois clientele, and there had been the ritualistic, ecstatic, mediation-prone, esoteric path of both the rural populations and the lower strata of the towns, visible in the commitment to saint cults and the adherence to the turuq, the organizations appearing in the literature as Orders or Brotherhoods. These two versions of the faith were only intermittently in conflict: at most times, they interpenetrated each other and tolerated each other in peaceful detente. All the same, the 'High' form remained normative, recognized as valid even if not implemented, and periodic attempts to impose it, in periods of zeal, did occur. However, these never were nor could be permanently successful: the spirit is willing but the social flesh is weak. Society simply did not possess the resources to

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