Responses to Modernization: Muslim
Experience in a Comparative Perspective
Throughout much of the Muslim world over the last twenty-five years, the slogan "Islam is the answer" has become ubiquitous. The "question" to which it is the answer is, Why, after a variety of experiments in social change over nearly a century, do Muslim societies remain economically underdeveloped, poor, and politically repressive, albeit to varying degrees? Since the mid-1970s the answer for many Muslims has become increasingly clear: The problems of the Islamic world derive from its rejection of its heritage, and a return to Islamic values—an Islamic state, Islamic law, and Islamic culture—will resolve these problems.
In much contemporary Western scholarship, too, Islam has also become the "answer"—not as the solution to contemporary challenges but as the explanation for the Muslim world's socioeconomic and political ills and its anti-Westernism. This contemporary Western "answer" has many variations—Islam supports authoritarianism, undermines freedom, nurtures aggression, oppresses women, and reinforces premodern hierarchies—and, consequently, it poses a host of further questions. Ultimately the presumed cause—Islam—becomes impossible to specify analytically, and the presumed effects—dimensions of the Muslim world's development and democracy deficit—vary so greatly that this answer is no more compelling than its Muslim counterpart.
Despite their very different answers to the question of the Muslim world's development and democracy deficit, Islamic and liberal Western analyses share a common assumption: that it makes sense to treat a religion, or a religiously based civilization, as the master key to understanding historical change in the modern world. It is this underlying postulate that this chapter questions by looking at the patterns of non-Western responses to modernity for more than a century. It will show that "Islam's" ideological role in Muslim societies is neither unitary nor