Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Overcoming Tradition and Modernity: The Search for Islamic Authenticity

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Overcoming Tradition and Modernity: The Search for Islamic Authenticity

Article excerpt

Overcoming Tradition and Modernity: The Search for Islamic Authenticity, by Robert D. Lee. Boulder, CO and Oxford: Westview Press, 1997. viii + 195 pages. Bibl. to p. 207. Index to p. 216. $62.

The most important virtue of Overcoming Tradition and Modernity becomes apparent in the table of contents. Robert D. Lee, professor of political science at Colorado College, classifies as modern Islamic political thinkers Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938), the philosopher-poet and spiritual father of Pakistan; Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), the radical opponent of the West and of Jamal `Abd al-Nasir; `Ali Shari`ati (1933-77), the syncretic Iranian essayist; and Muhammad Arkun (1928-), the Berber professor at the Sorbonne. Lee's categorization of all these men as both Islamic and modern overrides what most observers consider a fundamental distinction. But his rationale and analysis are convincing.

All four of Lee's subjects had direct personal experience with both modern society and modern Western thought. All lived in the West for some time and read Western literature extensively. Though Sayyid Qutb rejected the West entirely and presented his thought entirely within the context of Islam, Lee argues convincingly that Qutb's early study of Western literature and three years in the United States affected his thought despite the repulsion he felt for the West. Iqbal, Shari`ati, and Arkun cite many Western writers, but Qutb's rejection of the West merely makes his debt unacknowledged.

Lee uses the concept of authenticity to show the European roots of modern Islamic political thought and to encapsulate the common enterprise of his four subjects. He devotes his first chapter to the explication of the concept and his second to its significance in European thought. He derives his specific version of the concept primarily from Charles Taylor.1 To be authentic, "societies must collectively set agendas that reflect ... the cultural heritage of their own peoples. . . . Peoples must fashion their own political, economic and social systems to fit their own culture" (p. 1). Iqbal, Qutb, Shari`ati and Arkun each attempted to create an authentic formula for Islamic society. Their formulas differed in content and presentation, but their goal was the same. …

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