Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society

Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society

Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society

Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society


The actions and political rhetoric of the day seem to affirm the commitment of many Muslims to a more Islamic political, social, and economic order. But despite the pervasiveness of this phenomenon and its geopolitical significance, our understanding of the contemporary Islamic world has remained astonishingly limited. More than half of the world's 800 million Muslims live in Asia, and yet most people continue to think of Islam as an essentially Arab phenomenon. This wide-ranging volume brings together previously unpublished writings by leading authorities on Islamic affairs to provide the fullest picture of the diverse roles played by Islam in Asian public life today. Central topics include how Islam is presented in the public life--government, national ideology, law, and political parties--of Asian Muslims, and the ways in which Islam influences both the domestic politics and foreign policies of Muslim countries today.


To the extent that Americans are aware of Islam in Asia, their views are strongly conditioned by such dramatic events as the Islamic revolution in Iran, the struggle of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and the communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in India. To focus solely on these events, however significant, perpetuates several unfortunate misperceptions about Islam. First, Islam is frequently viewed as necessarily violent, anti-Western, and politically and socially reactionary. Second, the sudden spotlight on isolated events distracts observers from an appreciation of the longer-term evolution of the relationship between Islam and society in Asia. Although Islam has provided an underlying unity in fundamental belief and practice, its interaction with diverse cultures and ethnic groups has resulted in Muslim societies with distinctive features and experiences. Third, a focus on dramatic events tends to blind Americans to the varied approaches that the people and governments of Asia are taking in determining the roles Islam plays in their societies today.

Recognizing the need to step beyond the stereotypes and headlines, the Asia Society developed a project in 1983 on Islam and public life in Asia. This project, one of several under the Society's Asian Agenda program, was designed to foster increased American understanding of, and Asian-American dialogue on, the role of Islam in contemporary Asian politics and society. Under the direction of Dr. John L. Esposito, Professor of Religious Studies at Holy Cross College, an interrelated series of conferences, public meetings, and publications was organized by the society. This included a two-day conference in March 1984 that involved fifty Asians and Americans with an interest in Islam in Asia. the conference was followed by public meetings and smaller conferences cosponsored with world affairs councils and universities in fifteen American cities from Boston to Honolulu.

In addition to sponsoring these meetings, the Asia Society commissioned a group of leading American and Asian specialists to write studies on selected aspects of Islam in Asia. Because the vastness of Asia precluded a comprehensive study, it was decided to focus on countries that demonstrate the diversity, complexity, and vitality of Islamic life in Asia. in keeping with the project's public education objectives, it was also decided that the chapters should be written in language accessible to the nonspecialist. the result is a volume that examines the range of issues facing Muslims across Asia today.

This book has been prepared under the auspices of the Asia Society's . . .

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