Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Explaining the Origins of Islamic Resurgence: Islamic Revivalism in Egypt and Indonesia

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

Explaining the Origins of Islamic Resurgence: Islamic Revivalism in Egypt and Indonesia

Article excerpt

Islamic societies are experiencing the resurgence of religious activism and discourse in their social, political, and economic life. While the Islamic heritage has always served as a form of cultural identification in predominantly Muslim communities, Islam as a political force has markedly increased since the 1970s. Following long periods of nationalist/socialist projects, many in the Muslim world began to demand a "return to Islam." The manifestations of Islamic resurgence, however, vary from country to country. In some countries, the Islamic revival is an expression of political discontent and opposition. In others, it is an expression of political legitimation by the state elite. Yet in others, both manifestations of Islam are observed. What factors help explain the resurgence of Islam in its multiple manifestations?

Many scholars of Islamic revivalism attempt to explain the multiple expressions of political Islam by adhering to what may be termed the "crises theses." They hold that the reassertion of Islam is related to social and political crises: lack of social justice, lack of political legitimacy, or/and decline of long held traditional value systems. How these variables interact with extant Islamic identities, it is argued, helps explain the various manifestations of Islamic resurgence in different countries.

Yet despite the ubiquitous use of the crises theses by scholars of political Islam, I am unaware of any study that seeks to explicitly test their persuasiveness via structured cross-country comparisons. Although many studies compare Islamic movements (e.g. Piscatori 1983; Esposito 1987; Stowasser 1987; Marty et al. 1991, 1993; Ruedy 1996), these comparative studies rarely seek to isolate the posited causal variables from possible alternative explanations or apply the same indicators of the posited causal variables across cases. Thus the analysis remains unstructured, casting doubt on the overall validity of the crises theses. Therefore, in this paper, I aim to test the validity of the crises theses by way of a structured, focused comparison of Islamic revivalism in Egypt and Indonesia since the 1970s.

II. The "Crises Theses" as an Explanatory Framework

Proponents of the crises theses treat the resurgence of political Islam as a product of sociological and political factors interacting with deeply rooted Islamic ethos. These factors include, inter alia, "identity conflict, legitimacy crises, political conflict, class conflict, culture crises, and military impotence" (Dekmejian 1988, 7; 1995). More specifically, proponents of the crises theses argue that the inability of ruling regimes in predominantly Muslim countries to meet demands for social justice, political participation, and economic welfare leads many to turn to Islam as a form of political opposition and, on the part of the state elite, as a form of political legitimation (Davis 1984; Ibrahim 1987; Ayubi 1991). Others emphasize the crises of identity which results from rapid modernization, Westernization, and urbanization or from excessive reliance on Western models of development (Hourani 1983; Esposito 1988).

Dessouki, in an introduction to a comparative study of Islamic resurgence in the Arab world, synthesizes the key arguments of the crises theses and presents them in the form of five propositions:

Proposition 1: Ruling elites in Muslim countries may encourage Islamic groups as a legitimacy device, a diversionary tactic to divert public attention from other issues and to discredit their opponents, especially those of the Left. Generally, the more a political elite in a Muslim country lacks legitimacy, or is on the defensive, the more it will resort to Islamic symbolism and religious legitimation.

Proposition 2: At the level of the masses, Islam provides a frame of reference for their collective identity, a symbol of self-assertion, and a consciousness that is rooted in their own history and tradition as opposed to foreign penetration and cultural domination. …

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